There’s more to Mercury Beach than barely-there bikinis, luxury yachts, beckoning booties and sybarites from most of our sister territories, the majority from Martinique. Far more important are the economic benefits, to say nothing of opportunities to establish links useful to all the people of our region. So promoter and maritime consultant at the tourism ministry, Cuthbert Didier, reminded me following last week’s Friday-to-Monday beach bacchanal.
Didier was quick to point out that success is never automatic. It takes planning, imagination and a determination not to concentrate on matters that would frustrate other souls not nearly as tough as Mercury Beach’s local promoter. “It takes a lot of preparatory work to make potentially chaotic things run like Disneyland or,” he chuckled, “like WaterWorld.”.
“In 2014,” he recalled, “Gilles Wan Ajouhu from Martinique, one of the promoters of the original Mercury Beach, came here on a visit. At the time they were having problems with the authorities at home.” Having scouted various alternative locations here, Gilles engaged Didier in long discussions that ended with the marine consultant acknowledging the idea of staging the event here made sense.
“If you recall the first event in 2014,” Didier said during our interview, “it was massive! It was held at Pigeon Island Park. Unfortunately the Tourist Board had already settled its budget.” Things were different the following year. “In 2015 we looked for a larger spot and here we are,” said a clearly satisfied Didier. “The rest is history!”
Mercury Beach has found a home at Pigeon Island Beach, a favorite hangout for local lovers of the outdoors. Not that there were no hurdles to be overcome. For a start there were those who imagined the event would pose an environmental threat.
Said Didier, “Martiniquans are very eco-friendly. Anyone who has patronized the event will realize there are only three items which could’ve had an impact: foam, littering with cups and plastics and discharge from boats. During Mercury Beach, all these items are controlled.”
He added: “I would dare say that Mercury Beach sets the standard for the management of garbage at Saint Lucian events and I would like other local organizers to take a hint from our method of dealing with waste and reducing any negative impact to the sea and land.” He said people were assigned to clean up immediately following every event. Twenty washrooms were assigned a battery of focused attendants and divers positioned to facilitate and execute immediate ocean bed cleanups.” Didier, it turns out, is a confirmed advocate of the hands-on approach to things.
We returned to the matter of economic benefits from Mercury Beach. “The input was all local,” he said. “The boarding was plywood from Saint Lucia. So were the labor, stage, sound system, stage covers, platforms, décor; all local! The input from national service contractors too was strictly local, as were sponsors and purchased products, whether the Brewery or Peter and Company.” He was proud to emphasize that though the concept was an imported product from Martinique, the actual execution was strictly Looshan.
We came to the elephant in the room: “Over the last two years the event was heavily studded with local acts. This time around, the idea was to target the French market. The fact is that we had just come out of carnival, and I don’t mean to be critical, I’m only being very practical. The feedback from the French patrons was a deciding factor in choosing this year’s entertainment. We did have one local act, Ricky T, because he had a particular song that we knew would shake things up.”
Mercury Beach’s gate price in 2014 was EC$100. In 2015 it was $200. This year participants forked out $260 daily or $490 for a 3-day package deal. No surprise the event was plagued by two-legged would-be rats. Didier chuckled at the image.
“It’s just a reflection of the freeness mindset,” he smiled. “A lot of these people were removed because they didn’t have hand bands. We had a porous point because of the individuals assigned to that particular station. It’s something to be addressed.” He said not placing sea boundaries was a deliberate decision “to avoid any suggestion that our shores are being cordoned off for the use of foreigners. Ironically enough, though only land boundaries were placed, some individuals insisted on having their own way anyhow.
In his position for the last six years as marine consultant for both Labour and UWP administrations it has been Didier’s job to define policies and strategies to boost water-based tourism; primarily the development of yachting and water-based tourism activities.
“One of the key things any yachting destination worth its salt must have is a strong water-based event,” said Didier. “Antigua has Sailing Week, Fort Lauderdale the International Boat Show. Saint Lucia has the Atlantic Rally for Cruisers but that is contained to the Rodney Bay Marina.” He believes this island is in need of events that marry yachting with land-based tourism, and is optimistic that the visuals of Mercury Beach will validate this.
“My role is to go out there, collaborate and reposition the island in terms of increasing yachting arrivals, getting people to visit, stay longer and spend. Right now I’m working on other income generating initiatives that I promise will make Mercury Beach . . .” He paused, smiled. “That will turn Mercury Beach green with envy.”
Meanwhile, congratulations on his most recent effort have been pouring in, including this from a French travel agent: “I want to thank you for the wonderful time Martinique people spent in Saint Lucia, thanks to your energy and your big work. You taught us a great lesson about cultural tourism. I know you were not expecting this from me but when a job is well done, it should be acknowledged. Thank you, on behalf of my countrymen and myself.