Vacation Rentals in the BVI Property Market
- October 12th, 2013
- in PROPERTY
A Winter’s Tale – Are we doing enough to attract ‘snowbirds’ and villa renters to the BVI?
We are fast approaching that time of year when an influx of visitors from the north return or enter the BVI for the first time in search of warmer climes. Some of these visitors are ‘snowbirds’ – regular visitors to the Territory whose vacation homes will be dusted off for another winter season.
Others are new tourists, reaching our shores for the first time, looking for a villa to rent or a property to buy. Snowbirds differ from regular tourists in as much as their stay in the BVI can be measured in terms of months, rather than the usual weekly tourist.
Perhaps the single most important factor in improving this market, is the accessibility to the BVI – this subject has merited scrutiny over the year with the demise of the American Eagle flights, the continuing unreliability of LIAT and the dubious ferry service to St Thomas.
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Currently, overnight visitors in the BVI can arrive either via one of the airport gateways—Beef Island Airport or Virgin Gorda Airport—or by ferry from St Thomas.
As a tourist destination location, we are reliant on other island hubs—Antigua, St Martin, St Thomas and Puerto Rico—to transit visitors whose destination is ultimately the BVI.
As time becomes more precious and average holiday lengths shorter, the significance of convenient travel is playing a greater part in vacation decision-making for tourists. In early 2012, the Government announced a proposal to extend the runway at Beef Island Airport to accept direct flights from North America.
While this is being deliberated, it may well be the costs which will ultimately decide whether or not an extension is feasible. Regardless, this solution remains a minimum two to three year process. Much of the recent press discussion has concerned the reliability of the ferry operators between Tortola and St Thomas. Many passengers have exhibited great concern, expressing their disapproval over the ancient ferries and disorganised timetabling.
The conclusion many have drawn is that it does not provide a welcome arrival to the increasing number of visitors utilising this mode of transport. Government is reviewing the port facilities with the intention of creating a more modern and efficient port of entry. Whether the ferry services and port of entries by sea are upgraded, or the airport runway at Beef Island eventually extended, we will have a period of time when access to the BVI incurs disadvantages that may reflect in the 2014 high season tourist statistics.
With Government strategising over the various solutions, the short term options remain an issue. Overall, visitor numbers in both rented accommodation and owned property have remained relatively flat over the past ten years with the expected dip in arrivals between 2008 and 2009, and a slow recovery since.
While there is no separate ‘snowbird’ category in the Government’s visitor data, we can expect the number of snowbirds visiting the BVI each year to mirror these general statistics. Snowbirds are an integral part of the seasonal structure in the BVI and bring many benefits to islands. During their stay, there will be increased expenditure in local establishments—shops, car rentals, restaurants, day excursions—which means a need for more staff and subsequently, an increase in payroll tax to Government. This will also call for the need to maintain and upgrade properties. When not here, these home owners holding trade licences will frequently rent their villas, providing hotel tax to the Inland Revenue.
It is important that the BVI remains attractive in an increasingly competitive villa rental market. While economies are still recovering, the number of overnight visitors staying in rented accommodation needs to increase as the availability of villa accommodation also increases. The BVI Tourist Board has increased efforts to market the small inns and villas in the BVI, giving them a greater impact in the market. At the same time, the growth of websites directly accessing the market, have helped individual villa owners to reach a wider audience.
The web medium has become the single most important marketing tool for villa owners, surpassing the wholesalers that dominated the market up to ten years ago. Nevertheless, these firms can still play an important part in the villa rental market. The BVI is recognized as a small, pristine market, catering to independent tourists who are seeking a unique vacation experience.
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The region offers the opportunity for multi-island excursions, excellent beaches and is one of the leading yachting and water sports destinations in the Caribbean. Maintaining this environment is key to attracting this niche. As we move towards the high season, solutions for easier travel, whether by air or by ferry, will play an intricate part in the success of the forthcoming season.