Tourism numbers slump but Director optimistic

When it comes to intra-regional travel, there is one thing that the former Minister of Tourism Allen Chastanet and the Director of Tourism Louis Lewis agree on, and that is on an economical fast ferry service for the growth of the vital tourism product. During his tenure as Minister of Tourism Chastanet was constantly criticized for some of his initiatives here, including Showtime Boxing in Paradise and The Food & Rum Festival, both of which were deemed as carrying very little to no returns to the island. However, as a strong proponent of a fast ferry service to move people and goods across the islands, the former minister had gathered much support both locally and regionally, particularly from the Prime Minister of Barbados Freundel Stuart.
“I hope that this is something that takes priority at the CARICOM level,” Chastanet had said in 2009. A year later he repeated his calls for a ferry service which he said would help both tourism and trade across the region. “Hopefully CARICOM can recommit to getting this initiative off the ground,” he said then. CARICOM commissioned a study on the viability of the regional fast ferry service which was to be followed by an initial trial period. Sadly this has not seen the light as so any other CARICOM “ideas.”
This week, the island’s director of tourism was quizzed about the fast ferry talks, in light of a decline in visitor arrivals to Saint Lucia from the Caribbean in general. Louis Lewis acknowledged that there had been discussions about the ferry service both at the local level and at the regional level, but that as of late there was nothing he had heard of. “But I think If I were to  prescribe the way forward that is definitely the most viable option we should look at,” the director of tourism says. “But that should not be left just to the private sector,” he added.
The Director of Tourism along with the deputy director Tracey Warner-Arnold were on Tuesday October 23, 2012 addressing the media on a number of issues pertaining to tourism, including airlift, stay over arrivals and the cruise sector. Stay over arrivals it was revealed Tuesday is reflecting a two percent decline when compared to the same period in 2011. The key market for Saint Lucia, the US market has lost 20 percent of its airlift.
“The US market has been the one that has suffered the most from the decline in arrivals in airlift and as a result the numbers from the US market are down by about seven percent,” Lewis stated. However the heads at the SLTB confirmed that the UK market has shown some growth but that the passenger tax there was taking a toll on travelers. “We have what we consider as adequate airlift from the UK market but we have the impact of the debilitating ADP which serves as a cost hindrance. So it diminishes the on-island value of the visitor expenditure,” Lewis admitted.
There has also been a decline in the cruise sector performance to date, but tourism officials are optimistic that the return of Norwegian cruise line here last weekend, expected to land 2000 passengers, that an increase in that sector is expected. Overall the Director of Tourism is predicting at least a two percent growth, after November and December is taken into account. At worse he says, “Things may just flatten out for 2012.”
In the meantime the SLTB is reporting that a new strategic marketing plan is bearing fruit and that a number of airline partners are in discussion to increase airline capacity. Jet Blue has indicated that it will be flying into Saint Lucia six days a week while Delta and US Airways will also be increasing flights to the island.
“We are also in the advanced stages of active discussion with a brand new airline,” Louis said Tuesday.
However, the high cost of travel within the region as well as the structure regional carrier LIAT is something the Director concurred had to be addressed. On Tuesday he revealed that there had been a drop in visitor arrivals from the region, but business travelers had remained steady. “This was an issue discussed at a recent CTO meeting,” Louis says with the key question “how could you resuscitate the Caribbean market?”  Putting to him that it seemed obvious that the high cost of fares compounded by high taxes on tickets particularly from the Saint Lucian end was hurting intra-regional tourism Louis responded.
“It is not just a question of fulfilling a tourism perspective but that of CSME as well and the broader economic environment which is the free movement of people. Obviously the challenge is for the individual states to look at their revenue and recognize that we have a market for each other within the region and that has to be satisfied.”
While regional travel, restructuring of LIAT and a fast ferry service are issues the Director and former Tourism Minister agree on, the divide seems great when it comes to the rebranding of Saint Lucia. In 2007 under Chastanet’s watch, the island spent millions to rebrand Saint Lucia to “Saint Lucia-Live the Legend.” This, many say has not worked. Saint Lucia will once again be rebranded soon.

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