ST. LUCIA – As part of our ongoing press trip to St. Lucia to see the island’s swift recovery from Hurricane Tomas, Travel Agent and other media chatted Tuesday morning with Sen. Allen Chastanet, St. Lucia’s minister of tourism and civil aviation, and learned what St. Lucia is doing to ensure a bright future despite a 30 percent drop in November arrivals.
Among the bright spots in store for the island in the next few years is a new, seven-jetway terminal at Hewanorra Airport, according to Chastanet. Groundbreaking for that project will occur in January, with the project slated for completion in 2013. St. Lucia's goal in building the terminal is to position itself as a hub for nearby islands such as St. Vincent, Grenada, Martinique and Dominica, Chastanet said.
An array of highly anticipated properties such as Hotel Chocolat will be opening soon, bringing the number of hotel rooms on the island to between 5,500 and 5,700 by 2012. The island currently has about 5,000 rooms.
The good news is much needed for the island. Hurricane Tomas, which struck in late October and early November, devastated the island, killing seven and resulting in five missing people. The storm will cost the island roughly $15 million to $20 million in unbudgeted funds, a number that could climb to $200 million after making planned improvements to damaged materials that would ensure the island can sustain another such storm in the future.
From an industry standpoint, the storm also resulted in a 30 percent drop in arrivals in November compared to the same period last year. It stings even more since the island was gearing up for a very positive month.
“November was going to be one hell of a month,” Chastanet said. “It’s a real shame.”
If it weren't for the government's quick response, the situation could have been much worse. The government began cleaning up and repairing the island immediately after the storm. The island received two years' worth of rain in 24 hours, Chastanet said. Half of the island’s electricity was up and running within 24 hours and 95 percent of the island’s electricity was restored two to three days after the hurricane.
“Because of what we learned from Haiti and Katrina, the mentality was not to sit here and wait,” Chastanet said. “Usually the mentality is to stop everything and wait for aid. We were not going to sit here and wait.”