Boo: St Lucia identity missing in tourism

Local musician Ronald 'Boo' Hinkson speaking at SLHTA AGM.

Some of the very same issues facing the tourism industry in 2011 were still very much relevant when the St Lucia Hotel and Tourism Association held their annual general meeting last week. So said association president Karolin Troubetzkoy at the closed session of the SHLTA’s meeting. Troubetzkoy said some of those issues “continue to plague us both as a destination and as companies struggling to stay afloat amidst dire economic and social uncertainties.”
The bad news: “We still have not found the firm footing which will enable us to boast of any significant degree of recovery and renewal,” the SLHTA president said adding: “Prognostications predicted on blind optimism, lack of understanding of the real impact of tourism on small island developing states and an unwillingness to truly collaborate in the implementation of solutions leave us ill prepared to deal with surmounting challenges.”
“The cosmetic growth in visitor arrivals, the seasonal buzz in business activity and general misconceptions of global economic recovery are misleading many to think we are out of the woods,” Troubetzkoy expressed. “This could not be further from the truth particularly as the World Travel and Tourism council continues to lament the fact that 2011 was one of the most challenging years ever experienced by the global travel and tourism industry.”
While reports indicated growth in visitor arrivals to the region, Troubetzkoy revealed that growth was led by a handful of countries including the Dominican Republic, Cuba, Cancun, Mexico, Bahamas, Jamaica and Barbados. The SLHTA president noted a significant number of visitors came looking for bargains and discounts, thus spending less, resulting in smaller profit margins and decreased investments.
The issue of marketing was brought into the mix and Troubetzkoy recognized the tourism industry was often the first to feel government cuts in marketing and promotion dollars.
“It is not a feasible option to deal with these issues by reducing marketing dollars and increasing the tax burden on tourism enterprises,” she warned. “We need to explore more aggressively how we strengthen our competitiveness through reduced taxation, greater human capital development, more efficient business processes, reduced bureaucracy and a collective commitment to more innovative, eco-friendly and sustainable business practices.”
Still on the issue of marketing, one of the comments that stood out most during the open session of the SLHTA’s AGM was one made by St Lucian musician Ronald ‘Boo’ Hinkson.
“Everyone talks of the tourism industry and hotels,” he started. “You really need to do some surveys to get a true perception, from people who don’t work in the tourism industry to find what they think of you. That is very important to you; important to your business that you know and these surveys need to be done with some level of frequency.”
Hinkson noted the tourism industry could only enjoy longevity in an atmosphere of social harmony.
“When people are in a room and they say nothing, that is dangerous to you,” he commented. “Over the years they have not been made to feel part of it. They come to work and go home—that way you will never know what they think.
“I really would like to show you the songs some of these young men write, that they give to me to record for them and I say you cannot record that. It’s important that you hear these things because you might be fooling yourself about a lot of things.”
Hinkson questioned whether St Lucia’s true identity really stood out on the larger scale of things, and reflected on a personal experience to prove his point.
“Every time I travel people ask about the St Lucia Jazz Festival,” the musician told the gathering.                 “I was at the Lincoln Center last year and after the show someone said to me, I’d like to come to St Lucia for the Jazz Festival. If we lose the Jazz Festival what do we identify with outside of St Lucia? The Jazz Festival is great but I don’t know I’m excited about my country being identified as a place you want to come to just because we have a Jazz Festival. I think we need to find what exactly identifies us.”
For his part, the musician said he’d decided to sing in Creole for his next appearance at the Lincoln Center “because this is going to give St Lucia some identity at that level.”
“We identify ourselves as the biggest wedding destination, if we lose that we have to find something else to identify ourselves again and I think this is happening to us because the people who are giving us this identity are disconnected with our culture.
“That is the problem. We need to begin to find what is St Lucian and what is indigenous to us. Exactly who we are, then package it and sell it to the world.”
For her part Cultural activist Teresa Hall, who was made an honorary member of the Association last week, said there was need for the tourism sector to pay closer attention and make more of an effort to incorporate St Lucian culture—everything from talent to cuisine in order to improve the St Lucia product.

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