It is often with a sense of pride that tourism ministers today and yesteryear speak of that particular portfolio. They never miss a beat in boasting about tourism arrivals and stay over visitors, particularly when these two categories show signs of increase, compared to a particular time last year or last quarter, or over past quarters.
Governments, both past and present, make a habit of highlighting tourism statistics, particularly if those statistics show recent growth, as though it is a way of showing proof that they are governing the country in the right way.
Let’s be real. Consideration must be given to a tourism strategy by countries that depend on tourism since the tourism industry is a key economic pillar for future growth of such countries. Therefore, it was heartening to hear Prime Minister Allen Chastanet, during his budget address, outlining game changers he felt would accelerate growth in both tourist arrivals and tourist receipts.
The Prime Minister did not disappoint when, early in his budget address presentation, he presented the industry as being important to the country’s growth by saying tourist arrivals across all categories grew by 10.2 percent to register a new record of just over 1.2 million visitors in 2018. This was the Prime Minister’s first indicator that Saint Lucia is on a path of economic expansion and real growth.
Whether Chastanet is correct or incorrect in his summation of the country experiencing real growth is not the focus of this article. The focus is on government providing Saint Lucians with factual information on a timely basis regarding the industry, so that Saint Lucians can determine on their own how well the industry is doing, who profits from the industry, whether the services the industry needs to survive are provided by Saint Lucians or Non-Saint Lucians, and what improvements are needed. The need for information about visitor expenditure is important in an effort to determine whether tourism profits are really filtering down to the people.
There is no doubt that the contribution from tourism is pivotal to the economic and socio-cultural development of the island due in part to its foreign exchange earnings, the percentage of the workforce it employs and its impact on the island’s Gross Domestic Product, among other things.
But it must be noted that a harbour crowded with cruise ships does not mean that the visitors, when they walk our streets and browse our shops and boutiques, will part with their money. Hotels filled with guests from outside Saint Lucia is not an indication that tour operators, restauranteurs, craft vendors and others are reaping a bounty. Visitor expenditure is hardly talked about when government ministers, particularly tourism ministers, talk about tourism and how wonderful the industry is doing.
Until we can get accurate figures on how well the average Saint Lucians with micro and small businesses that depend on tourism are doing, the picture presented by our governments on the tourism product will never be balanced. It will always be slanted to suit the picture the government wants to present to the public.
We understand that Saint Lucia’s tourism industry is confronted by many serious challenges, as well as opportunities. We also understand that for us to adequately confront all this we would need a true picture of the industry as this is the only way we can put together a policy framework to guide us on improving the industry. What we do not want is to have a tourism sector deficient of vision, resource allocation, flexibility and internal consistency.