Caribbean countries need mass tourism, not just boutique hotels

The Royalton Saint Lucia will host its Grand Opening ceremony later this month.

Last Friday, members of the local media were treated to an afternoon of  “All In Luxury” at The Royalton Saint Lucia Resort & Spa—the island’s newest 5-star all-inclusive hotel located in Cap Estate. Architecturally, the Royalton is a borderless space of sprawling elegance made possible through the methodical usage of glass, combined with rich wood-paneling and a light dusting of Guyanese-imported white sand to match the postcard. With 456 suites, 11 restaurants, and tens of millions of dollars in investment capital, Saint Lucia’s first and only Blue Diamond Resort can legitimately be described as a tribute to opulence.

Though Royalton (a subsidiary of Sunwing Travel Group) isn’t quite a household name in Saint Lucia at this time, the hotel’s predecessors certainly have a storied history. Standing proudly over the graves of two former mega-hotels turned mega-failures, Sunwing Travel Group’s Chairman Colin Hunter stated that his history with Saint Lucia is in fact closely connected with the defunct Club Saint Lucia and the Gobats —the prominent British-Saint Lucian millionaire hoteliers whose son, sadly, was in 2014 assassinated less than a mile from where the Royalton stands today.

With over 8,000 rooms under management throughout Cuba, Jamaica, the Dominican Republic and Antigua, along with a dominant position in air lift into the Caribbean via STG’s other subsidiary business, Sunwing Airlines (Hunter told reporters that his airline is currently averaging over 100 flights to Cuba per week), the vertically integrated travel and leisure conglomerate shows no signs of slowing growth.

Founded as recently as 2002, STG has pursued aggressive growth in the North American and Caribbean regions, largely through a heavily M&A focused growth strategy targeting tour operators in several regions. Three years in, the group rolled out Sunwing Airlines, which today boasts an impressive fleet of 37 airlines. Shortly afterwards, Sunwing Travel Group entered into a strategic merger with TUI Group, a Germany-based tourism behemoth and the largest leisure and travel company in the world.

Unrelatedly or otherwise, TUI Group-owned and operated cruises also frequently call into Port Castries, delivering thousands of tourists per month to Saint Lucia’s shores. In keeping with Sunwing’s trend of acquiring its sun-beaten competitors eager to get out of the Caribbean heat, their 49% minority shareholder TUI Group seems to agree with the tactic, evinced by its recent purchase-and-convert deal of Royal Caribbean International’s Splendor of the Seas and Legend of the Seas lines into their very own TUI Discovery.

Overall, Sunwing & TUI’s interests in Saint Lucia seem to represent what the government hopes is a renewal of positive sentiment in the nation’s ability to attract foreign investment. Judging by this company’s footprint on the island, it appears the best brains in the Ministries of Finance and Tourism might finally be onto something after all.

Asked by this reporter how Saint Lucia could increase its competitive advantages as a destination for tourism investment, the Canadian hospitality magnate called on the government to “do something about that airport”, alluding to the 90-minute journey his guests must currently endure as they skirt the poorly-lit cliff-side roads that line Saint Lucia’s coasts. Hunter further stated that what countries such as Saint Lucia need is “mass tourism; not just those boutique hotels.” The chairman dropped that gem shortly after he announced that this week Sunwing will be opening a bigger and—if you can believe it—more beautiful resort in Negril, Jamaica!

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