There are few ways better to explore the beautiful British Virgin Islands than by cruise ship. With breathtaking white sand beaches, friendly locals, and an unmatched Caribbean atmosphere, ports such as Jost van Dyke, Norman Island, and Virgin Gorda, as well as the main cruise hub of Tortola, are seeing a surge in visitor numbers since the global pause in operations. 

While less than 100,000 people visited in 2021, that number tripled in 2022 and doubled again in 2023. While impressive, those numbers pale compared to the cruise passengers expected to arrive during the 2023-2024 cruise season, which starts in November and runs through March. 

Recent data reveals that the British Virgin Islands (BVI) are experiencing an extraordinary upturn in the number of cruise guests arriving at its ports. The resurgence of visitors since the summer of 2021 indicates a strong recovery in the cruise tourism sector following the slump caused by the pandemic.

A report from the Ministry of Communication and Works, in conjunction with the British Virgin Islands Ports Authority, showcases a significant upward trajectory in guest arrivals. 

The number of visitors more than tripled from 72,263 in 2021 to 265,723 in 2022. This trend has continued into 2023, with arrivals numbering 492,481 as of the end of August. The busiest month this year was March, with 107,688 visitors arriving by cruise ship.

Tortola, British Virgin Islands (Photo Credit: byvalet / Shutterstock)

However, the projections for the 2023-2024 cruise season show the British Virgin Island’s growing popularity, with local authorities expecting 794,489 guests—surpassing the previous record of 699,105 set in 2016. The surge can be attributed, in part, to a new pact that the British Virgin Islands signed in March of this year with the Florida-Caribbean Cruise Association.

Nearly all major cruise operators now include visits to the British Virgin Islands in their itineraries. Smaller ports, such as Virgin Gorda, Norman Island, and the famous Jost van Dyke, known best for the Soggy Dollar Bar, offer anchorage to smaller and luxury cruise ships from Windstar, Seabourn Cruise Line, Hapag Lloyd, and MSC’s new cruise line, Explora Journeys.

Tortola is the island’s primary cruise hotspot, with ships from Royal Caribbean International, Princess Cruises, Disney Cruises, MSC Cruises, Norwegian Cruise Line, and Celebrity Cruises all having multiple calls scheduled through the end of 2023.

The cruise industry in the Virgin Islands plays a vital role in the overall tourism sector, contributing to the economic growth and development of the islands. With its pristine beaches, crystal-clear waters, and breathtaking landscapes, the Virgin Islands has emerged as one of the fastest-growing Caribbean cruise destinations.

Photo Credit: Wirestock Creators / Shutterstock

Although the yachting industry still generates the bulk of income for the British Virgin Islands Port Authority, the cruise industry is expected to account for 40% of total revenue. 

According to data from CLIA, each visiting cruise passenger spends up to 750 dollars on a visit to the British Virgin Islands. This expenditure can encompass a range of activities and services, from local dining and shopping to water sports and guided tours. 

The financial impact extends beyond immediate revenue for local businesses, as it also contributes to job creation and the region’s overall economic health. 

During the 2017/2018 cruise season, the British Virgin Islands’ cruise tourism generated $12.6 million in revenue and $4.3 million in employee wages. As visitor numbers are anticipated to break records this year, these financial figures will rise even further.

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