ONE week after making glowing comments about the team involved in marketing Saint Lucia as a world-class destination responsible for bringing into the country a record breaking 1.2 million visitors last year, Tourism Minister Dominic Fedee Wednesday found himself being called incompetent by parliamentarian Ernest Hilaire.
Hilaire, who represents South Castries in parliament, appealed to Fedee to give Saint Lucians a truthful appraisal of the tourism industry.
“It cannot serve Saint Lucia well if the sole intent is to use figures in a distorted and deceptive manner. The arrivals data presented for tourism is very revealing and exposes the incompetence of the Hon. Minister for Tourism in ways in which he is not even aware,” Hilaire said at a press conference held at the offices of the Leader of the Opposition on High Street, Castries.
Fedee boasted of increases in the yachting and cruise ship sectors but toned down when it came to stay over visitors saying that the number went down by about 5000.
Hilaire however was having none of the cheerfulness displayed by Fedee, stating that the tourism picture was not all rosy as Fedee tried to portray.
Hilaire asserted that the increase by 10.2 percent of visitors to Saint Lucia in 2018 over 2017 was achieved largely through increases in cruise ship visitors and yacht arrivals and not by stay-over arrivals which provide for the highest visitor spending and is the most significant source of revenue for Saint Lucia.
“The Minister did not state that stay-over arrivals, which is the core of the tourism industry, had only increased by 2.2 percent,” Hilaire said. The 2.2 percent increase was largely caused by an unusually high increase in March 2018. No explanation was given by the Minister for this exceptionally high increase. It may be due to the large number of visitors for the traditional Easter Weekend,” Hilaire said.
He compared tourism figures for 2018 and 2017 and said that there were less stay-over visitors to Saint Lucia for March to December 2018 compared to March to December 2017, meaning that less stay-over visitors came to Saint Lucia for the last 9 months of 2018.
“The Minister must explain to Saint Lucia why did this occur,” Hilaire said.
To show how pale and unpromising the tourism sector, under Fedee, had been performing in spite of Fedee’s pronouncement that last year was a good year for tourism, the South Castries parliamentarian examined each of the festivals for the year that was introduced by the government predominantly to boost stay-over arrivals.
Said Hilaire, “According to Prime Minister, Hon. Allen Chastanet at SOLEIL’s official launch in St Lucia on 2nd February 2017 at the Bay Gardens Hotel, “the idea is when you come to Saint Lucia you can stay all summer long with the extensive events calendar and no shortage of amazing places and sites to visit”.
He added, “Last year the following festivals were hosted: Saint Lucia Food & Rum Festival (January 2018), Saint Lucia Jazz Festival (May 2018), Saint Lucia Carnival (July 2018), Roots & Soul Festival (September 2018) and Arts & Heritage Festival (October 2018). The Country & Blues Festival was never held in 2017 and was not mentioned for 2018. We also had CPL cricket and Mercury Beach in August 2018.”
“Let us take a look at stay-over visitor arrival for the period when these Festivals were hosted. Saint Lucia Food & Rum Festival (January 2018) – Peak time for arrivals only 3.5% increase. Saint Lucia Jazz Festival (May 2018) – 841 more persons or 2.7% increase. Saint Lucia Carnival (July 2018) – a decline of 1.2 percent, Roots & Soul Festival (September 2018) – a decline of 6.5 percent, Arts & Heritage Festival (October 2018) – a decline of 7.1 percent and CPL and Mercury Beach in August 2018 – 768 more persons or 3.3% increase.
“From these figures is the Soliel Summer Festivals achieving its stated objectives as announced by the Prime Minister? Can the Minister (Fedee) explain to us why stay-over arrivals decreased during these Festivals? The record is clear and very instructive. Those events have no positive impact on our visitor flows, which raises the big question about their relevance and the recent realignment with the Tourism Authority. I eagerly await a report on how much those events are costing the tax payer of this country, for the seemingly negligible benefits,” Hilaire said.
Turning his attention to cruise ship arrivals after asserting that this was what drove the overall increase of 10.2 percent in tourism arrivals for last year, Hilaire said that cruise ship arrivals increased from 669,217 to 760,306, an overall increase of 91,089 or 13.6 percent.
“However, the number of cruise ships coming to Saint Lucia is declining from 423 to 370 ships, a decline of 53 ships or 12.5 percent.
“So our increases are because bigger ships are coming to Saint Lucia. Again we have to ask the Hon. Minister why are the number of cruise ships coming to Saint Lucia declining so significantly,” Hilaire said.
The Tourism Authority confirmed that the number of cruise ships calling to port had indeed declined, however, cruise ship passengers increased due primarily to larger cruise ships with more passengers coming into the country.
Hilaire said that 2018 tourism figures also showed that Saint Lucia’s performance with stay over arrivals among other Caribbean countries is declining. Saint Lucia, he said, was leading the region between 2012 and 2013. That position was lost when the largest hotel in Saint Lucia was closed to make way for the Royalton Hotel. However, presently, stay-over arrivals to the region, according to statistics from the Caribbean Tourism Organisation increased by approximately 6 per cent in 2018, even while all the data had not been reported as yet.
“Therefore, our 2.2 per cent growth has to be seen as slower than that of our average competitor in the region. Added to all of that, this Minister (Fedee) is overseeing a tourism plant with more than 10 per cent more rooms than we had in the previous administration, and yet featuring less than par performance,” Hilaire said.
Added Hilaire: “So the fundamental question is, from a policy perspective, can the Minister (Fedee) outline any new policy initiatives that have been implemented under his tenure that he can claim will transform tourism in Saint Lucia? And while he is thinking, the answer is NONE. The reality is that there have been no new initiatives from a policy perspective. Sadly, or expectedly, we have not had any tangible innovation under his tenure.”
Hilaire rounded off his attack on Fedee and the Tourism Authority by stating that after years of painstaking work by successive Labour administrations to transform and transition the Tourism Industry towards greater local participation and opportunities, the Allen Chastanet-led UWP Government had reversed many of the gains made.
“Many vegetable, produce, livestock and other farmers who previously supplied the hotel industry, have gone out of business, because the Allen Chastanet regime has removed protection for those persons and allowed the hotels to import those items at duty free prices. In addition, the Allen Chastanet regime has undermined local producer associations like the Saint Lucia Marketing Board, the Saint Lucia Fish Marketing Corporation and the livestock farmers who would have occupied the new Meat Processing Plant which they have decided to demolish.
“All of this is calculated to undermine local ownership and participation and strengthen the stranglehold of friends, family and foreigners over our people. In the Taxi sector we heard of duty free vehicles being granted to favoured foreign hotels for guests’ transportation, while the concessions previously granted to local taxi drivers were withdrawn. The Prime Minister and the Minister will not answer questions on their conflict of Interest relative to the Sandals Group or the Castries Comprehensive School, but they will boast about Tourism numbers, where the dollars are not filtering through to Saint Lucians as they did before,” Hilaire said.