There are at least three dimensions necessary and essential to the success of the local tourism industry. Since its election into office we have heard ad nauseam the leading role tourism is to play in the social and economic development of the island. No one can deny this government’s policy on tourism. It is front and center – the first dimension in a vision of development. It is the crucial starting point, a vision if you prefer, of the social and economic thrust the government relies on to build a better, stronger society. In addition, citizens have been provided with some details of the many hotels soon to be built or expanded. That’s good! Many unemployed persons eagerly look to these new establishments for employment.
Thankfully, the tourism and hospitality industry has a solid foundation on which to build. I refer to the warmth, kindness and professionalism of the vast majority of the people of this island who work in the tourism, hospitality and service industry. I call this the second dimension. It is as crucial as the first. That quality in the people of Saint Lucia is a positive feature that has been repeatedly observed by visitors to the island over many years. It’s an asset to be jealously guarded and still vigourously promoted. Unfortunately, some people who need to be emancipated from mental slavery, still equate service with subservience. How sad!
It is worth noting the breadth and scope of the people here who interface with the visitor, whether arriving by sea or air. Customs, immigration, sales clerks, travel agents, taxi drivers, tour operators and of course, hotel employees and vendors, all interface with our guests. Then there are coconut and other road side vendors that are not to be brushed aside. Tourism and the hospitality industry touch the lives of many on this island, as banana production and export once did. Experience tells us that Saint Lucians, who come in contact with visitors, whether from the Caribbean or elsewhere, deserve a huge pass mark for making each visitor feel welcome. A clear policy direction plus the positive attitude of Saint Lucians are the first and second dimensions on which a long lasting tourism industry may be built. But there remains at least one more crucial dimension to complete the triumvirate to a successful tourism industry.
That third dimension is one which is sadly neglected and now cries out for urgent attention. I refer to the general appearance and cleanliness of the island. This is something separate and apart from the beautiful hills and valleys with which this island is blessed. And even here one can still see the large scars left on hillsides by massive erosion from reckless deforestation and poor land use.
In comparison, note the pristine condition in which the grounds and surrounding areas of hotels are kept by employees who do their jobs diligently. Why can’t workers in the public sector do the same? What do visitors see when they step outside their hotels, or venture into the city from a cruise ship or yacht? How do we explain those unsightly clogged drains, overgrown grass and trees narrowing the roadway, and garbage pile-up in certain areas? It has been said that there is money in garbage. That saying does not seem to hold water on this island. Do we need outside experts to teach us how to keep our island clean?
Not satisfied with improperly disposing garbage, we proceed to further despoil the landscape with derelict vehicles all over the island. Old broken down and unsightly rusting vehicles and excessive garbage may not be seen in the same light as a homicide, but it is surely crying out for attention. It is difficult to understand the mentality of people who litter. Some nonchalantly wind down their expensive tinted car windows in order to throw garbage out in the open. University graduates and highly placed public servants are not blameless in this. Some people throw garbage from their vehicles without stopping or slowing down. Don’t these people know better? Perhaps an example ought to be made, using the Litter Act.
There is an even larger matter which disfigures the environment. I refer to large rusting empty containers. Whose job is it to remove these unsightly rusting containers from the environment? What happens when those responsible do not act?
In the mid-1980s Minister Romanus Lansiquot (Tourism) launched a cleanup campaign that included the removal and shipping out of derelict vehicles from the island. Has there been a similar cleanup effort in the last twenty-five years? Cheap politics had accused him of cleaning up for the tourists. The Minister was too busy to ask his detractors who benefits most from progress, the visitor or those who live here? Were his detractors suggesting that the derelict vehicles would be returned after the tourists left?
There is value in building new and more beautiful hotels. These certainly enhance the beauty and value of the island and the people. Manicured grass and colourful flowers further enhance the beauty of the island. But this must be backed up by a more determined and concerted effort to clean-up the environment of derelict vehicles, condemned rusting containers and of course garbage and waste of all descriptions.
With increasing use of the weed wacker, road side drains have suffered the neglect of cut grass blocking the free flow of water. These drains need urgent clearing especially during the rainy season.
Finally, some arm chair critics may think that escalating crime, detection and punishment, may help stifle the growth of tourism. For my part, crime affects every citizen. Long after the visitor has returned home Saint Lucians are left with the problem of crime, in all its ugly forms. We must therefore kill crime before it kills us and our island. We do this for ourselves, not the tourist. We therefore deem crime a separate and crucial issue worthy of specific attention.