St. Lucia just celebrated its 40th anniversary of independence on February 22, but the island is hosting events throughout the year to mark the occasion. Much like the Caribbean at large, St. Lucia is dubbing 2019 as the “Year of Festivals.”
At an event in New York City, members of the Saint Lucia Tourism Authority—including minister for tourism Hon. Dominic Fedee and director of marketing for the U.S. Kelly Fontenelle–Clarke—spoke about what visitors can expect on the island this year. The highlight will be the Saint Lucia Jazz Festival, held May 5 – 12, which will be collaborating with Jazz at Lincoln Center. The 2019 Saint Lucia Jazz Festival Produced in Collaboration with Jazz at Lincoln Center will feature some of the top performers in venues and public settings across the island. Guests can expect the likes of Christian McBride, Ledisi, Etienne Charles, Russell Hall and Patrick Bartley, plus artists Gregory Porter, Dianne Reeves, Catherine Russell, Somi, The Baylor Project, Veronica Swift, members of the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra and a variety of musicians and collaborators from the Caribbean.
In addition to the performances, the 2019 Saint Lucia Jazz Festival will offer “Artists in Education” initiatives, including master classes, professional development and live performance collaborations with Saint Lucia School of Music students and local jazz artists.
The Jazz Festival is among the largest tourism initiatives undertaken by the island, according to Fedee. But, on top of offering world-class jazz, the festival serves a larger goal. Fedee says that St. Lucia is looking to become more of a year-round destination—not just a warm-weather getaway during the U.S.’s winter months. He also spoke about how the island has much more to offer than its beaches. The Jazz Festival, with its May dates, helps on both accounts.
Going beyond the beaches, St. Lucia is looking to embrace “village tourism.” The idea is to get visitors into the small towns across the island to really learn about local culture. Airbnb is growing in popularity on the island, but Fedee is launching initiatives and legislation to legitimize the option. The initiatives will help the locals receive training and marketing, so they can better learn how to run their “small hotels,” Fedee says. He adds that non-traditional stays are growing at a faster rate than hotel stays (11 percent to 4 percent), and so, ensuring that guests have an authentic—but also positive—experience is a top priority.
While the island has over 2,000 hotel rooms in the pipeline (among the notable projects: Fairmont has broken ground in the south; a fourth Sandals on the island was approved; Hyatt will be opening a hotel in the north; and Apple Leisure Group will be opening both a Zoetry and Dreams resort on the island), Fedee says there will be numerous infrastructure projects beginning in 2019 to keep up.
The island will spend $2 million to improve its main roadways, as a trip from the airport to the resorts on the island’s northern tip can take up to two hours. A new international airport (costing $175 million) is also in the works. The terminal is being built next to Hewanorra International Airport’s existing terminal, which will then be renovated upon the opening of the new airport—giving the airport two terminals. Fedee says the new airport will have digital biometrics kiosks, to do away with paper customs forms, and will be able to accommodate 1 million visitors per year (the current setup is designed for 300,000). The new airport is set to be completed in 2021.
St. Lucia is also working with a yet-unnamed “major cruise line” to build a new, $150 million cruise port in Vieux Fort, near the airport. With the existing cruise port in Castries in the north, the new southern-located port will help diversify the island’s cruise offerings. While Fedee wouldn’t spill on the cruise line, he did say that the cruise port would be able to accommodate the “mega-ships” that are entering the market.
In terms of sustainability, St. Lucia also recently banned styrofoam on the island, plastic straws have been greatly reduced and single-use plastics overall are on the way to being banned, Fedee says. In his words, “keep your eyes on St. Lucia.”