Together for a better Saint Lucia.” This is the theme for the SLHTA’s fiftieth anniversary, which was celebrated with a week of activities this week. Launching the initiative last Friday, the association hosted a press conference at the Bay Gardens Inn, where the various media houses were informed of the SLHTA’s plans and schedule of activities. Sole presenter on the day was the Executive Vice President of the SLHTA, Noorani Azeez, who engaged us in a short interview afterwards.
STAR: What was the aim of the press conference?
NA: The conference was designed to raise the awareness of the media and the general public on some of the issues and activities that we’re going to be engaging in over the course of next week and the next few months, as we celebrate our golden jubilee.
STAR: How has the SLHTA progressed over the past 50 years?
NA: I think admirably. We have been addressing issues in a very timely and effective manner, as far as the membership are concerned. I think in the past few years we have seen the association playing a bigger role in dialoguing with policy makers on shaping legal policy framework that affects the [tourism] industry.
So we are very happy that over the past few years we’ve been able to strengthen that relationship with various actors within the industry to ensure that we unlock solutions that are mutually beneficial to multiple stakeholders.
STAR: The past few months have seen a high level of criminal activity on island. How is that affecting the tourism product?
NA: Crime is not a good selling point for any destination and it hurts more to see these instances occurring. Safety and security is a key consideration for tourists when visiting a destination and it is something that needs to be addressed very aggressively by the private sector as well, to ensure that guests are able to come and enjoy themselves in a very safe and healthy environment.
Now we have noticed over the past few months, through looking at the trends of visitors arriving, it seems to suggest that they are interested in going out into the communities, visiting sites and attractions, availing themselves of the community type experiences. Now this can only be enjoyed within a safe and secure environment, so you can well imagine our concern regarding safety and security. We have got a very functional safety and security committee at the SLHTA and on that committee we’ve got representatives from the Royal Saint Lucia Police Force as well. So the discussion is one that is ongoing, something we constantly monitor and try to reach out and connect with each other.
But I think on a national level we’ve got to do a lot better as it relates to encouraging individuals to dialogue better, to resolve conflict better.
STAR: How have the smaller hotels fared in our current economic situation?
NA: It has been difficult. At an association level, we have seen an attrition regarding the involvement of membership of some of these properties, which is most regrettable, because in these tough times, solutions will come as we rally together and move as a cohesive unit.
We are in the process of organizing a number of training and developmental workshops for the sector and we are collaborating with them to try to offset some costs associated with that grouping.
There is going to be a number of discussions also with the ministry of tourism, the Saint Lucia Tourist Board and the small hotel owners themselves, to look at how we can explore reduction of their operating costs as well by doing it as a group.
So we are well aware of the impact of the global economic ties on these smaller properties given their resource constraints, and we have been working with them to address some of their shortcomings.
STAR: How have the figures for this year so far differed from those of 2013?
NA: I do not have the actual figures per say, but I am advised that we are pacing the winter as we have done, and we are practically on par with last year’s winter, if not better.
So we are keeping our fingers crossed hoping that that trend will continue. We are however mindful that this particular month is a tad more difficult as far as arrivals and occupancy levels are concerned, but we are cautiously optimistic that the summer will bring more opportunities and a lot more arrivals that we hoped for.