Last week, during the St. Lucia North American Showcase, hosted by The Harbor Club St. Lucia, Curio Collection by Hilton, Sanovnik Destang, the now-former president of the St. Lucia Hotel and Tourism Association (SLHTA) highlighted the success and growth of tourism on the island. He noted during the Annual General Meeting (AGM), that the island has seen double-digit increases in stay-over arrivals and expenditures in 2017, and similar advances in cruise arrivals.
Looking back, Destang highlighted a number of key projects implemented during his term, which included developing young leaders in the sector, expanding tourism linkages to increase the share of revenues generated from the industry to local communities, achieving a record level of association membership, and presiding over the financial stewardship of the body, which broke even for the first time in half a decade.
Destang, executive director of the locally owned Bay Gardens Resorts chain of hotels in the north of St. Lucia, added that despite the record high growth, there was still much to be done. Citing figures that indicated that the increased arrivals did not benefit all hotels equally, he urged the SLHTA to focus on ensuring that smaller properties also reap the benefits of higher tourism arrivals. To note: Several smaller properties had to offer discounted rates due to the greater supply of rooms on the island.
Another issue that Destang brought up was the high price of air travel, as well as the proposed airport taxes. He argued that these do/would make St. Lucia extremely uncompetitive relative to other destinations in the region.
Back to positives, however, he mentioned that St. Lucia has also been working to increase security arrangements in order to address the harassment of visitors, the need for beach patrols, and increased presence in areas with high visitor pedestrian traffic.
Like many other destinations and hotels worldwide, sustainability is a big talking point on the island. Destang, noting the SLHTA's commitment to sustainable development, suggested the tourism sector could help by producing its own renewable energy. Currently, efforts to encourage farmers to sell their products directly to hotels, restaurants and retailers has been met with success. (In addition to benefitting the hotels, it also generated significant incomes for farmers and saved the island funds by cutting back on imports.)
Destang also noted the success of the Tourism Enhancement Fund, which allowed the SLHTA to create programs to improve the skills of industry employees and to promote the importance of tourism to the lives of St. Lucians. For proof of the skilled tourism personnel: St. Lucian teams earned "a whopping eight medals" at the Taste of the Caribbean event hosted by the Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association (CHTA) in Miami this year.
Concluding his press conference, Destang congratulated Karolin Troubetzkoy, who was elected as the new SLHTA president, and John Mathurin, the new first vice president. They join Erwin Louisy, who was reelected as second vice president. Troubetzkoy is the executive director of Anse Chastanet and Jade Mountain Resorts; Mathurin is owner of Serenity Vacations & Tours; and Louisy is the proprietor of Barefoot Holidays St. Lucia. Troubetzkoy also served as the president of the Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association, where she held the role for three years.
As president of the CHTA, Troubetzkoy spent time dealing with a bevy of challenges, including Zika, Brexit, Sargassum and the hurricanes of last September. She noted, however, that the need to cope with and recover from adversity had given the region another skill: "Resilience has become our new mantra and guiding light as we strive to make our small island developing states more resilient to these shocks."
Additional challenges that St. Lucia and the Caribbean still face, according to Troubetzkoy, include: “Mitigating the effects of climate change, preparing for the danger of stronger and more devastating hurricanes, dealing with environmental issues from mosquito-borne illnesses, coral bleaching, plastic pollution, water and waste water management, and introducing more renewable energy sources."
Looking at how she will build the industry, Troubetzkoy called on St. Lucia's public and private sectors to work more collaboratively "to share with the world the diverse richness of our region—our cultures, art, music, food, history, natural environment and the many types of accommodations experiences."
Troubetzkoy echoed Destang’s sentiment that training is also important for St. Lucia due to the possible doubling of available rooms in the coming years. "For this expansion of our industry, we must be prepared to make the necessary investment in training and training facilities to develop the skilled workforce required to fill the jobs that will surely come."