The newly created Saint Lucia Tourism Authority focuses on rebranding the destination and rejuvenating its tourism product
In May 2017 Prime Minister Allen Chastanet delivered his first budget address promising a “re-engineered” tourism sector that would serve as “a catalyst for economic growth”.
Guiding this re-engineering is the newly formed Saint Lucia Tourism Authority which takes up from the Saint Lucia Tourism Board (SLTB) the mantle of marketing the destination. The process of dissolving the SLTB and transitioning into the SLTA began late last year when questions were raised as to how the former was managing its budget. Concerns over expenditure, particularly funds diverted to the country’s annual Jazz Festival, led the government to seek a more streamlined approach.
The new and improved SLTA had its official launch last month and has set its sights on product development and marketing – giving the country a fresh new rebrand and enticing visitors with a unique and authentically Saint Lucian product.
Tourism Minister Dominic Fedee says one of the advantages that the new entity has over its predecessor is clarity. “Our approach is a lot more focussed now,” he says. “The previous focus was on events management and marketing. Now we have a very specific focus on marketing the destination and improving its visibility.”
The mandate isn’t the only thing that’s changed. In order to fully represent all stakeholders within the industry, some re-structuring was needed. Where the SLTB had 12 directors on its board, the SLTA will have just seven. Four will be appointed by the tourism minister and the rest nominated by the private sector. “The new entity gives the private sector a great stake,” explains Fedee. “We do not have the over-politicization of the board. We are empowering the private sector.”
In addition, the SLTA will draw some of its funding from external sources rather than being dependent on the public purse. This kind of financing is intended to make the entity more secure and shield it from the uncertainty of budgetary constraints. Fedee says: “The SLTA will raise its own revenue in conjunction with the Ministry of Finance. The marketing budget should not continue to come from central government’s capital expenditure. In times of financial stress, governments have reduced the budget without consideration for the authority’s importance in driving tourism and maintaining and expanding growth.”
To raise capital, the Authority is aiming to collaborate with online booking engines – introducing a “very conservative” room charge. It will also take US$10 from the US$35 airport development tax introduced this year.
The SLTA expects to spend around EC$50m through 2018. While this is an increase from the EC$40m spent by the SLTB last year, Fedee says it is justified given the size of the task ahead. “There has to be more investments made so we can heighten awareness and plan for a lot of the new rooms that are coming on. We want to do a lot of new things over the next three years so there is more visibility, then we can scale back.”
DEVELOPING THE PRODUCT
Central to the SLTA’s mission in the next few years is product development. Recognising that most travellers are now shying away from the traditional beach holiday and seeking out more innovative experiences, Fedee says Saint Lucia must re-package itself accordingly.
“For a long time, the ‘Simply Beautiful’ brand worked but the world is changing and travellers are looking for more adventurous experiences,” he says. “Saint Lucia has to do a better job of showing its culture and heritage; we have these various assets that we have left languishing. We are looking at product development to sustain the interest in Saint Lucia, raise revenue and create exciting opportunities.”
The minister is particularly enthusiastic about the SLTA’s ‘village tourism’ initiative. A new spin on an old idea, this project will transform eight villages on the island into themed hubs. It will include a culinary village, an artist’s village, a festival village and a spa and rejuvenation village. “We will focus them as tourist destinations to give us a platform on which we can build,” says Fedee who hopes the scheme will spread the benefits of tourism out from the hospitality sector into every facet of the economy. “We want to get Saint Lucians into these small businesses. Not just attractions but inns, bed and breakfast places, restaurants. With the right conditions and the right training we can put them under one umbrella so they can all be part of the brand together.”
BUYING INTO THE BRAND
Developing an attractive brand that will appeal to the changing demographic of travellers is a key priority for the SLTA. The organisation will shortly launch a new campaign with the tagline ‘Saint Lucia, Let Her Inspire You’.
Much of the marketing will be done online, hoping to reach a global audience and strike a chord with millennial travellers in particular. Fedee says: “You get a lot of return for investment when you do digital marketing so it is a very big push for us. We also do radio, television and other traditional advertising but the digital component is a key factor.”
The theme of inspiration in the new branding material speaks to Saint Lucia’s unique landscape, culture and history. Fedee believes the destination has something to capture the imagination of visitors and set it apart from other islands in the region, and says: “Saint Lucia has a vibe about it. We are not just a bland island. We have our volcano, our cocoa plantations, our health and rejuvenation sector. The mountains are amazing, the people are amazing. We also have the French and British colonial history that has left us with an extraordinary culture and we are an extraordinary people as a result.
“A lot of people are coming and a lot of investors are flocking here because they see Saint Lucia as the next big place to explode.
We have that momentum behind us.”