St. Lucia in transition


(eTN) – Not so long ago the St. Lucia economy was based on exporting bananas, fishing and manufacturing; today tourism fuels the GDP. In 2009 St. Lucia welcomed 278,491 visitors (primarily from the USA; 98,685) arriving by air and 699,306 cruiseline tourists.

According to the St. Lucia Minister of Tourism, Allen M. Chastanet, the target market for the destination is the, “discerning” and “experienced” traveler as the country has accommodations for the $1200 night visitor (i.e. Jade Mountain) as well as the tourist with a $50 per night budget. Chastenet has found that St. Lucia guests are looking for an “authentic experience,” that includes the Creole, French, African, and Ameri-Indian heritage of the country.

Coming and Going
From most accounts, St. Lucia (part of the British Commonwealth) is ready for prime time tourism. Currently airlift is available from the USA, UK and Canada, and the addition of a new airline using St. Lucia as a hub for regional transportation is under discussion. Presently the country supports two airports that accommodate large transatlantic and international flights (Hewanorra International) and regional aircraft at the George F. L. Charles.

In his September 15, 2010 address, the Honorable Prime Minister Stephenson King announced plans to expand Hewanorra at the cost of $160 million. It will be financed through a new $35 departure tax and “…not taxpayer dollars” according to the Prime Minister. Addressing the rationale for the new airport he stated, “This increase will still allow St. Lucia to compete effectively and successfully in the regional Tourism industry.”

Recognizing that the single highway that currently transects the country is inadequate to deal with the expanding economy the government plans an expanded road system. Using a hierarchical system the vision includes a network with specified drive aisle widths and number of lanes, landscape buffers, sidewalks, bike and walking paths as well as on-street parking where applicable. The roads will link villages and towns to the city of Castries. Site furnishings will include shelters, benches, light poles, trash receptacles, recycling bins, newspaper stands, bollards and tree grates.

Sources of Foreign Direct Investment
Foreign investors are attracted to this Caribbean country because of infrastructure improvements that include communications, a sewerage system, an educated and skilled workforce as well as a relatively stable government.

Most recently the International Monetary Fund (IMF) approved an $8.19 million disbursement under the IMF’s Rapid Credit Facility (RCF) to be used to cope with the economic consequences of Hurricane Tomas. The Republic of Korea assisted St. Lucia recover from Hurricane Tomas by donating computers (to schools), aquatabs, hand sanitizers and hygienic soap.

The Taiwanese government has pledged $21 million to help finance the 2010 budget of Prime Minister Stephenson King with additional foreign direct investment and grants from the European Union, CDB and the World Bank according to Franklin McDonald, Chairman of the LPM. McDonald is concerned that $266 million in foreign financing of a $1.2 billion budget “…will not fare too well in this global economy if it does not cut down on domestic waste and spending.”

According to the 2010 Throne Speech of Her Excellency Dame Calliopa Pearlette Louisy, “With a global bank credit squeeze, Foreign Direct Investment has slowed, particularly in the tourism sector where planned projects and some already under implementation have had to be held in abeyance or postponed, thereby affecting employment in the construction sector.”

No Season for Crime
In his May 30, 2010 speech to the citizens of St. Lucia, the Prime Minister, the Honorable Stephenson King discussed challenges facing the nation that include increased criminal activity. According to the Minister King, “Challenges are not new…”

To deal with increasing crime the Prime Minister determined that the Saint Lucia Police department receive additional training, new recruits, equipment, and vehicles. A Cabinet Task Force on Crime and Security was formed and includes the Ministers of Social Transformation, Home Affairs and National Security, Tourism and Civil Aviation, Physical Development and the Environment as well as the Attorney General. The Prime Minister determined that, “The Cabinet Task Force shall engage all social and economic partners…” as part of the “national strategy to address the crime issue.” The Prime Minister has also developed a witness protection program to guarantee the safety of witnesses.

Tourism Minister Allen Chastanet has introduced a hotel licensing program and that is part of new measures to improve visitor security and will complement a security audit currently underway at local tourist attractions. According to the, attractions that do not meet the minimum security standards will be closed as a last resort.

A Study of St. Lucia’s Yachting Sector cited issues restraining tourism expansion (in general) including: limited budgets, competition from lower-priced destinations, stagnant or declining international markets and the potential effects of unforeseeable events on the world stage.

The issues cited specifically inhibiting the growth of the yachting sector include:

• Proper oil disposal systems

• Lack of skilled labor

• Insufficient industry understanding from close communities

• Shortage of essential mooring facilities in anchorage areas (i.e. buoys)

• Inadequate infrastructure in Marigot, Rodney Bay and Gros Islet to handle human waste generated from yachts

• Slow response of law enforcement (i.e., thefts from yachts, illegal fishing and diving)

The study encourages the development of the yachting sector as St. Lucia “…has the potential to position itself to be the premiere yachting destination in the region.”

Education and Training
Recognizing that expanded tourism requires a trained and educated workforce, Minister Chastanet spoke of a new program with Monroe College, a private institution based in New York. High school graduates interested in entering the hospitality industry can enroll in a 6-month certificate course that covers the basics of housekeeping, bartending, front desk administration and marketing at a cost of $1300. Partners in the program include The Ministries of Tourism, Communications and Works, the Florida Caribbean Cruise Association (FCCA), St. Lucia Hotel and Tourism Association (SLHTA) and the St. Lucia Development Bank (for tuition loans).

Successful completion of the program comes with employment opportunities with cruise lines or hotels. To facilitate the repayment of the academic loans, cruise line and hotel employers deduct a percentage of the academic cost from each pay check. It is expected that if the student remains with the cruise line or hotel for two contract periods, they will be debt-free.

St. Lucia is also working with Cuba to enhance the literacy of its citizens. The Cuban, “Yes I Can Literacy Programme,” according to Education Minister Arsene James, will be available to adults as well as primary school children.

Come Play
St. Lucia continues to receive coveted awards including the “5-Star Diamond Award for Excellence” from the American Academy of Hospitality Studies (2004) and, for the fifth consecutive year was designated as “World’s Leading Honeymoon Destination” by the World Travel Award group. In 2010 Sandals Halcyon was presented with the LIME Green Award for consistent excellence in conservation and preservation of natural resources and sound waste management.

For many years there had been opposition to casino operations on St. Lucia, however, in a recent win of yeas over nays, Treasure Bay casino (a Biloxi, Mississippi based corporation) opened in December 13, 2010 with an investment of $44.4 million. The Treasure Bay casino is open to visitors and residents over the age of 18 (membership is required for wagering). Located in Rodney Bay (Bay Walk Mall) the casino offers gamblers slot machines, Blackjack tables, Craps, Roulette, televisions in the bar and private poker tables.

If day adventures are more important than nighttime games of chance, St. Lucia visitors are catching their breath at the new zip line in the Rain Forest. For water play there is always sunning, swimming, snorkeling, Scuba, fishing and yachting. More turf than surf visitors schedule golf and horseback riding.

Allen Chastanet, the Minister of Tourism and Civil Aviation for St. Lucia, is determined to expand tourism opportunities. His executive experience with Windjammer Landing, Air Jamaica, Coco Resorts, the Caribbean Hotel Association, and the St. Lucia Hotel and Tourism Association clearly provides him with the background needed to meet the economic, political and governmental challenges facing this destination.