On a brief stopover in Barbados in June of this year, the daily cartoon in the Barbados Nation caught my attention. It featured a racing critter representing Saint Lucia ahead of another in a “tourism race.”
This apparently had come out of much debate in Barbados about the challenge being put up by Saint Lucia for Barbados’ tourism crown, at least for the first quarter of 2013.
Two weeks after I came across the said cartoon, the Tourism Minister in Barbados, Richards Seales, was quoted as saying that St Lucia’s tourism product lagged behind that of Barbados by some thirty years.
In a June 28, 2013 Barbados Advocate article by Renice Bostic the minister also dismissed claims that St Lucia has surpassed Barbados in relation to tourism as “outrageous and incorrect.”
“Barbados is still a high-sellable market, he added, “the name Barbados means something and there is still a great demand for tourism services in Barbados.” “Moreover if we had to be perfectly honest, St Lucia is at least 30 years behind Barbados in terms of tourism…that’s the reality. St Lucia has three Sandals properties so they get a lot of American visitors coming, but we still get more American tourists than they do. Our UK airlift is what is actually sustaining the St Lucian tourism industry.”
Tourism officials here since then, had avoided being drawn into any regional debate over tourism when comments were solicited by the Barbadian and regional press. That is, up until last week. And they are now simply allowing the figures to do the talking.
During a press brief here this week, it was revealed that for the first half of 2013-January to June- Saint Lucia had seen an increase in the number of stay-over arrivals over the same period last year.
Minister for Tourism, Heritage and the Creative Industries Lorne Theophilus has since expressed his gratitude to the Saint Lucia Tourist Board and lauded their efforts in creating the environment for growth within the sector.
Speaking to the STAR on Friday the Director of Tourism Louis Lewis said that the US market was the main contributor to the five percent increase.
“We were able to increase our numbers from the US markets to well over six thousand,” Lewis said.
He explained that the results were due to sustained, focused and targeted campaigns in the US.
“In addition we also hosted a significant number of travel agents from the US. But we cannot discount the rebranded Saint Lucia Jazz and Arts Festival where we saw a spike in the numbers in May,” said Lewis.
With a much smaller room stock than Barbados, St Lucia welcomed 43,335 American visitors between January and the end of April, when compared with the same period. Barbados recorded 42,516 for the identical four months, a decline of 11.9 percent. The media reactions from Barbados to Saint Lucia’s tourism status have been on since last year.
In May of 2012 one article read; “there was a time not so long ago when mention of St Lucia as competition for our tourism visitors and dollars was laughed at. That laughing stopped a few years ago and has now turned into serious concern as St Lucia’s tourism industry continues to progress in the face of a worldwide economic downturn.”
And reacting to the facts and figures this week, one online writer and Bajan hotelier Adrian Loveridge wrote: “It’s official. Our neighbour, St. Lucia, overtook us for the first four months of this year, in terms of United States long stay visitor arrivals.”
The piece has since attracted over two hundred comments. The STAR asked Louis Lewis to comment on the tourism debate in Barbados.
“Well you are getting that sort of thing now not just because of the increase in arrivals we have achieved so far over Barbados, but for other reasons. There is now obviously more visibility in the marketplace where Saint Lucia is concerned, as opposed to before one would be hearing and seeing mainly Barbados.”
“We have also been given a boost through our rebranding, focusing on our visitor experience theme through our culture, heritage and the arts and being seen as a special events destination while not losing sight of our niche in the weddings and honey-moon market,” the director also disclosed. He also credits the partnering with the hoteliers and the SLHTA for the island’s successful campaigns in the tourism sector. While the five percent figure only relates to volume, the director said it is a little harder to relate this number to visitor spend, when we asked. “In a few weeks we should be able to quantify this in terms of how much revenue this increase in arrivals accrued, but from all the indicators I am seeing there was at least a two percent increase in the visitor spend for the first quarter,” Lewis told the STAR.
Already regional tourism experts are predicting Saint Lucia’s success trend to continue over the next six months. The addition of United Airlines to the airlift capacity last month is also expected to boost arrivals here.
However, the Barbados/Saint Lucia rivalry is also expected to continue even as hundreds of Saint Lucians party in Barbados this weekend for Crop-over. Hundreds of Barbadians too are expected to stop by for the Saint Lucia Jazz and Arts Festival in 2014. Little of what Seales or Theophilus say may affect that.