The United States Virgin Islands is celebrating 100 years as a U.S. territory, and it’s paying travelers to come visit.
The territory’s tourism department is offering travelers $300 in spending credits to have a tourism experience beyond its beautiful beaches as part of this year’s centennial celebrations emphasizing its history as a U.S. outpost in the Eastern Caribbean.
“We certainly recognize the natural attributes of our geographical location, incredible beaches, wonderful vistas and natural beauty,” USVI Commissioner of Tourism Beverly Nicholson-Doty said. But with this year’s milestone, she added, the territory wants to “celebrate our culture and heritage.”
“We want people to get a more authentic experiences in their visits, from the culinary to our historic sites, places of worship that have a deep connection as to who we are as a people,” Nicholson-Doty added. “It’s a commemoration of our last 100 years, but also it’s an acknowledgment of our history.”
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Known for its white-sand beaches and verdant hills, the territory boasts a combined population of just over 100,000. The territory saw a 3 percent increase in tourism last year, with the island of St. Croix enjoying double that. Nicholson-Doty credits an increased emphasis on St. Croix, which is gaining a reputation for dining options like balter St. Croix and Cast Iron Pot, which emphasize farm-to-table and the use of local goods.
The three main islands became a possession of the United States on March 31, 1917, after being sold by Denmark for $25 million. The islands’ history as a Danish colony dates back to 1672 when St. Thomas was annexed, followed by St. John. St. Croix was purchased by the Danish from the French.
USVI residents were first extended U.S. citizenship in 1933. And while it has its many benefits, there are still some privileges that islanders do not get, part of the reflections some are taking during the anniversary.
“We are certainly proud Americans in the Virgin Islands,” Nicholson-Doty said. “But after 100 years, we still can’t vote for president and that has a trickle effect from healthcare to our Medicaid/Medicare proportions.”
Another shortcoming: While children born in the USVI are American citizens, they can never run for president, she added.
“As we look at the next 100 years, it’s important for us to be able to assume all of our rights as Americans,” Nicholson-Doty said.
If you go
The following are some of the cultural and heritage sites that travelers are invited to check out. Trips must be booked by October, and travel must be completed by Dec. 31 to qualify for the $300 spending credits. Other tourism sites can be found at www.visitusvi.com
Synagogue: Jews first settled in the island in the 1600s, and in 1796 they built a synagogue. One of the oldest synagogues in the Caribbean, it still boasts sand floors.
Camille Pissarro Gallery: Located in the childhood home of Camille Pissarro, the gallery pays homage to the Danish-French artist considered the father of French impressionism. Visitors can see Pissarro’s artwork and that of other painters.
Estate Whim Plantation Museum: Here visitors will find one of the largest portals on ancestry. The Danes were meticulous record keepers, especially of the enslaved Africans who passed through the Danish West Indies to work the plantations in St. Croix. As part of this year’s commemoration, which also pays homage to the Virgin Islands’ African and Danish heritage, the Danes are turning over even more records from Denmark. The museum also offers a living experience, allowing visitors to interact with history by viewing, for example, how musical instruments were made.
Friedensthal “Valley of Peace” Moravian Church and Manse: The Moravian Church was instrumental in educating enslaved Africans. A visit to this mission church, founded in the 1750s, gives a sense of their history in the island.
Christiansted: Walk in the footsteps of founding father and first U.S. Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton, who spent his childhood here after moving to St. Croix from the nearby island of Nevis.
Virgin Islands National Park: Covering more than half of the island, the natural park showcases not just the natural beauty of St. John, but also of its Taino Indians, enslaved Africans and European colonists. The Danish influence in the islands comes alive as visitors see first hand the plantation system, using slave labor, that they established.