One can easily appreciate the creation of employment opportunities in a country with an unemployment rate slowly inching to 22%. With Saint Lucia being a revered tourism destination, varied hotel options are an asset and a large workforce to see its success is necessary.
In March 2016 former minister of tourism, Lorne Theophilus, announced a US$200 million hotel project on the Sab Wisha Beach Park in the district of Choiseul. Despite the development being initially welcomed with open arms by Choiseul residents, numerous unanswered questions about the proposed development have led to mounting tensions a year and a half later.
A rumoured road diversion has caused many residents to disfavour the proposed hotel development. An unofficial illustration of the road system circulated on social media and various television shows indicates a diversion by which the road would be rerouted through several other communities within Choiseul, and add nearly 15 minutes to the usual time it takes to access some areas. The existing road system runs directly through the hotel property.
From March 2017 community meetings have been called to address the issues of the local residents. These meetings have not been short of the usual political bias and banter. On 27 August a town hall meeting under the auspices of a local group dubbed the ‘Sustainable and Well-Planned Development Group’ featured Choiseul district representative Bradley Felix and chairman of Invest Saint Lucia, Pinkly Francis. Along with a fairly large audience came a barrage of questions, testimonies and the occasional heated argument. Questions were posed by ordinary residents of Choiseul, local business persons and Saint Lucians from other parts of the island, demonstrating a nationwide concern as regards the hotel development. It was clear that all in attendance had no qualms on the issue of development but simply feared such a drastic adjustment to their accustomed transportation route.
The consensus after the gathering was that the invited officials had not provided enough information to ease the minds of residents. In actuality, many persons expressed being confused as to the progress of the hotel development and the future of the existing road. Similarly, some residents were disgruntled by the fact that they had not been kept in the loop by the relevant authorities, and expressed a sense of disenfranchisement. In the minority were those who lent their full support to the hotel development, arguably due to their political party preferences.
With more and more hotels being built every few years, it is easy to overlook the opinions of citizens in an effort to make island living – even if for a week or two – more comfortable for tourists. While understanding how important a healthy tourism product is to Saint Lucia, residents of Choiseul have chosen not to back down until they feel that they are sufficiently informed – an outlook other Saint Lucians should adopt as regards any form of tourism.
The next meeting of the Sustainable and Well-Planned Development Group is scheduled for Sunday, 8 October. See next week’s edition of the STAR for more information.
— By Nelcia Charlemagne