Tourism minister airs concerns at SLHTA AGM

The 48th Annual General Meeting of the Saint Lucia Hotel and Tourism Association unfolded at Royal by Rex Resort on Friday, May 18. Friday’s meeting was quite an interactive one, with several revelations and observations beings made by speakers at the event.
Tourism minister Lorne Theophilus was one of the first speakers of the day at the event themed ‘A Hand in Hand Partnership; Now More Than Ever We Need Each Other.’
Theophilus welcomed all to the event, noting: “This is the first opportunity I have to directly address the full membership of the tourism interests in the private sector who are part of the SLHTA.”                 Holding the AGM he said was clearly indicative of the fact that tourism has been a solid part of the St Lucian economy for quite some time, “and he private sector has recognized the importance of the sector.”
Their meeting was particularly significant at this point as a new financial year had begun, and the budgetary allocation to the tourism industry had been made public. Forty-five million dollars was allocated to the St Lucia Tourist Board for marketing activities while five million had been devoted to product development.
“Through the planned programs we should see the creation of an authentic St Lucian experience in the Dennery and Mabouya Valley under the Community Based Eco-Agro Tourism development project,” he elaborated. “Attention will be paid to the development of the yachting sector while the ministry will seek to establish its own website after all these years.”
The tourism minister had more good news to report. He reported a 15 percent increase in arrivals to the island throughout the months of January to March, when compared with a similar period in 2011. That he said was a combined effort of hotelier and the St Lucia Tourist Board.
“2012 has the potential to be a very good year, but there are the challenges we must overcome,” Theophilus commented.
Firstly, he said there was need to remain focused on the agreed marketing strategy in all major markets. A decision had been made that the primary focus would be on the romance market, with family and the soft market secondary.
“All the evidence suggests that the romance market is very resilient and this fits nicely with the strong reputation St Lucia has developed over time in this market segment,” the minister said.
Secondly, improvement was necessary when it came to airlift, particularly from the US market.
“The current prices to St Lucia on any of our major carriers from the US is simply too high,” he stated. “This undoubtedly is negatively impacting demand and hence the performance so far.”
The third area the tourism minister focused on was the brand awareness of St Lucia that he said was “currently high and positive in the marketplace.” However, the minister felt a new tagline for marketing promotions that was all embracing and reflective of the destination needed to be developed.
“The time has come for some concerted effort to be exerted in identifying and developing new markets,” Theophilus said. “In that regard, attention will be paid to emerging markets such as Brazil and Russia. We have taken steps to enter the Russian market. This is reflected in the Cabinet decision to remove visa requirements for Russians wishing to travel to St Lucia.”
He added: “We intend to treat the Canadian market as a new market,” he said. “Already, efforts in that market are yielding very encouraging results. With the steady performance of the Canadian economy during the most difficult of times in the recent global recession, Canada is clearly a source market which deserves careful attention.”
Within the tourism ministers presentation he touched on sports tourism as a niche market that had remained dormant for too long.
“With the sporting asset that are currently available in St Lucia, there surely must be a way through which the managers of those national assets could collaborate with you the industry partners and the St Lucia Tourist Board to exploit the use of these assets for the benefit of all.”
The health and wellness market was another such niche market that was rapidly growing and along those lines the tourism minister recognized St Lucia had some of the best spas in the Caribbean.
“Efforts must be made to position St Lucia as the best place for such treatments in the Caribbean,” he said.
“All our marketing efforts will be in vein if the product we are promising is found wanting,” he said speaking directly to Karolin Troubetzkoy president of the St Lucia Hotel and Tourism Association. “The need to concentrate on product development is central to the success of the industry. This is why the ministry of tourism will be paying special attention on the introduction of standards throughout the industry and the commencement of a process of licensing. The tourism sector is far too important to allow a few to dominate all sectors of the industry while the rest of the domestic population are reduced to mere spectators or do not feel that they have a stake in the industry and hence a reason to fight to protect it.”
Going forward Theophilus said government seeked to provide incentives to the industry, but expected establishments to play their part in the closer partnership by paying taxes to government.
“The role of hoteliers in the introduction of the Value Added Tax is an important one,” he said. “Government had examined the implications for the industry on introducing VAT and is convinced that a VAT of eight percent is a fair tax. Notwithstanding, the measure will be reviewed by April 2013 to access the actual effects of VAT on the sector.”
“Coping with the changed requires trust in each other, patience and innovation,” he went on. “It is my view that the best days of the industry are ahead of it. I call on all to work together as we seek to reshape this vital industry and business.”

Down to business: SLHTA discusses the impact of VAT, airfare taxes and tourism arrival figures.

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