CHAIRPERSON of the St. Lucia Tourist Board, Agnes Francis has now assumed the role of Executive Chairperson of the organization following the resignations of its Director Louis Lewis and Deputy Director Tracy Warner-Arnold.
The announcement was made by Tourism Minister, Dominic Fedee, via a statement from the Board stating that Francis will remain in the post and guide the organization while it transitions into a new entity called the Saint Lucia Tourism Authority. She will also have the task of recruiting new leadership for the new Authority.
Prime Minister Allen Chastanet explained the idea behind the new Authority which he said will be professionalized and de-politicized.
“We want to create an entity that has much more private sector involvement. We want to create an entity that has its own revenue, that’s not part of government’s recurrent expenditure and has ordinance that limits the amount of money that could be spent on overheads,” Chastanet said.
Fedee has also revealed why Government was compelled to make some pivotal moves to restore the viability of the island’s main economic driver and foreign exchange earner.
Minister Fedee surmised that some of the responsibility can be apportioned to a lack of clear direction. “There seems to have been a focus on the Land Based Tourism Sector and there wasn’t any clear mandate to promote the island as the destination of choice that it should be for cruise passengers.”
He added: “Cruise passenger arrivals year to date to Saint Lucia records a 19.6 percent decline.”
Minister Fedee said it is very concerning that the Board fell below its target figures in several key areas, including the UK and Canada markets, cruise and visitor arrivals.
“We also found our main entity to market our destination the Saint Lucia Tourist Board in a very bad financial state. In fact, the financial statements are showing that the Board started the financial year of 2016 – 2017 with payables from 2015 to 2016 of over six million dollars. So while the Board had to contend with dwindling budgets because of policy decisions made by the previous dispensation, we saw that they were starting flat-footed with a debt of six million dollars.”
This was the latest in a string of startling occurrences that have occurred at the Tourist Board in recent days starting with the sudden and unexplained resignations of Lewis and Warner-Arnold almost two weeks ago.
This was followed by the Board hastening the departure of both by cutting short their departure dates forcing them to leave earlier this week instead of the dates given in their resignation letters, which for Warner Arnold was end of this month and Lewis end of next month.
The Board, thus far has given no explanation for the unexpected departure of its two top executives, although Minister Fedee at Tuesday’s House of Assembly meeting spoke of changes to come to the organization.
Another startling occurrence is the announcement by Minister Fedee of a financial audit now underway at the organization and thousands of dollars spent on overseas public relations companies and other tourism trappings that were wasteful and of no significance to the overall development of the local tourism product.
Then on Tuesday came news that staff at the organization were told they would have to resign and reapply for positions in the new entity. Normal operations are still being maintained at the organization as remaining staff have given their full cooperation to the Executive Chair.
“With the interest of Saint Lucia’s tourism industry as a top priority, this appointment (Executive Chairperson) is intended to allow for a smooth transition and continuity in the operations of the St. Lucia Tourist Board including the committed marketing programmes, relationships with stakeholders and the execution of ongoing events such as the Atlantic Rally for Cruisers (ARC),” The Tourist Board noted in a statement.
“The Government of Saint Lucia recognizes that for progress to occur, difficult choices must be made. However, the underlying intent is to go about the transition in a humane and transparent way, with the greatest respect for and fairness to staff,” noted the statement.
The statement concluded with the assurance that “above all, the Government of Saint Lucia stands steadfast in ensuring that the business of the industry will go on during this transition and that this process will strengthen and grow our destination and by extension our country whose future is inextricably tied to the tourism industry.”
An idea of the situation which led to the rolling of heads at the SLTB was given Tuesday by Fedee in the House of Assembly. He spoke of thousands of dollars being paid monthly to public relations firms as retainer fees in Canada and Brazil that were not benefiting St. Lucia at all; budgets not being prepared in advance; a precarious monetary situation where the Board pays out thousands of dollars in advertising paraphernalia and activities of little significance to the overall tourism product and $14 million being spent on the Arts and Jazz Festival that appeared not have the type of penetration in overseas markets as expected.
“We need to ask ourselves whether $14 million of $34 million (the Tourist Board’s annual budget) is worth spending on one of our events,” Fedee said.
“The time really has come for change. We are undertaking a financial audit of the St. Lucia Tourist Board with the Jazz Festival of particular concern,” he added. The festival has since been removed from the control Tourist Board and is now the portfolio of a Festivals Commission.