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Spreading the Net

Spreading the Net: Defying the Downturn, One BVI Business Chases Customers

On a recent weekday afternoon, the ferry BVI Patriot, inbound from Tortola, eased its way into the Charlotte Amalie ferry terminal. Crowding around the bow, a group of about thirty tourists clutched their Dolphin Discovery souvenirs and chatted excitedly about the events of their day.

The group proceeded through customs and immigration and waited on the dock to re-board the ferry along with a couple dozen BVI-bound passengers. The ferry left the terminal and, rather than proceeding straight out to open water it headed across to the Havensight cruise ship terminal where the group disembarked and proceeded to board their ship as the ferry continued on towards the BVI.

Striking a pose. All photos courtesy of Dolphin Discovery.

One man stayed aboard to return to Tortola—Carlos Guerrero, the manager of the BVI branch of Dolphin Discovery. Faced with reduced tourist flows through the summer, Guerrero and his company decided to act aggressively and pursue business from across the international divide. Through the summer months, the trickle of BVI-based customers for the landmark dolphin-swimming experience is augmented by the flow of passengers from the cruise ships that, whilst they don't stop in Tortola, now provide a good part of Dolphin Discovery's business.

“These guests help keep our revenue flowing,” says Guerrero. The dolphin business has its own special needs—you can't lay off the dolphins, after all. Consequently, you need the trainers and the cleaners and the entire infrastructure to stay in place. “We hope to make our profit,” Guerrero says, “in the winter when the cruise ships return to Tortola. Then we'll still bring the guests from St Thomas as well as servicing our BVI customers.”

The demise of two of the USVI's prime attractions—the submarine Atlantis and the match racing experience of On deck Sailing—left an opening in the entertainment schedule for cruise ship passengers. Dolphin Discovery reached out to ferry owner Bobby Hodge who helped put in place a service that picks up passengers from the dockside in St Thomas, clears them through US Customs and Immigration, transports them to the BVI and clears them through to the BVI. Once cleared in, they join buses that take them to Dolphin Discovery's facility. Later in the day, the process is reversed, and the guests end up back on the cruise ship dock in Charlotte Amalie.

It's clearly a lot of work and effort on the part of all parties, but it's paying dividends—now that some cruise lines, such as Disney, no longer stop in the BVI, their guests are still able to enjoy the attractions the country has to offer.


Cruise ship passengers choose to spend their Virgin Islands time with the dolphins.

Creatively dealing with the challenges of the moment is the essence of business acumen. Whilst not every business can deliver their own customers in the way that Dolphin Discovery has, many are capable of using aggressive means to boost revenue and attract new customers. The BVI has always been a destination for USVI-based companies such as power boat rental company Nauti Nymph. The restaurants and bars that benefit from the flow of customers from the US side, such as the beach establishments in White Bay, JVD, or at Norman Island have been mostly passive beneficiaries of this flow. Dolphin Discovery has clearly rewritten the playbook for getting new customers and, in an economic downturn that shows little sign of abating, such creativity will become an essential tool for any business that wants to survive.

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