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Sub on the Rocks

Atlantis Adventures to Cease Sub Tours  –  In what is clearly an ominous sign for the Virgin Islands tourism industry, Vancouver-based submarine tour operator Atlantis Adventures has announced the closing of its popular reef tour business in the USVI.  According to Gary Cram, Atlantis's general manager in St. Thomas, “it is our intention to cease submarine tour operations in St. Thomas as of May 31, 2009, barring some intervention that could keep us operating beyond that date.  The reason for closing is simple: prospects for turning a profit – or even covering expenses – are dim in this current environment.”  Atlantis will continue to operate its catamaran sail and snorkel tours.


Founded in 1986, Atlantis began operations off the Cayman Islands and opened in St. Thomas the following year.  Operating from seven bases in the Caribbean, three in Hawaii and one in Guam, Atlantis claims to have catered to 11 million customers.

Janet Griffiths of Atlantis Adventures' Caribbean regional office told the BVI Yacht Guide that the closing was confined to the submarine operation and was not extended to any of the other Caribbean bases.  “We're not booking as many tours from cruise ships, and land-based tours are down as well on St. Thomas,” she said.


Is the Atlantis's experience the canary in the tourism goldmine?  Here in Tortola, things may not be so dire.  Local tourist attraction Dolphin Discovery says business may be slower but is still viable.  “In comparison with other years, tours have been down,” said Carlos Guerrero, Dolphin Discovery's BVI manager, “but we are doing fine with the cruise ships in Tortola.”  While the submarine tour and the dolphin experience are similarly priced, Guerrero hinted that the Atlantis's difficulties might stem from their higher costs and subsequent need to keep their submarine filled.  “I don't know much about their business,” Guerrero said, “but people still want to have fun on vacations, though they are watching their dollars.”


Atlantis manager Gary Cram, describing the company's predicament, said, “the drop in tourist arrivals and cruise ship calls combined with the impact of the economic crisis and rising operating costs created a perfect storm that was not producing enough paying customers to support a high-overhead business like our tourist submarine,” he told BVIYG.  Lending support to Dolphin Discovery's Guerrero, Cram said “I know that most other tour operators and retail stores are suffering, although I suspect those with significantly lower overhead will be able to weather the storm.” 


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