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Tourism Minister Responds to Ernest Hilaire, Virgin Atlantic Issue

By Hon. Dominic Fedee
Image of Tourism Minister Dominic Fedee

IT is unfortunate that as a sitting parliamentarian, MP for Castries South Dr. Ernest Hilaire continues to mislead the public on matters of national importance in order to score cheap political points. His most recent offence of political heresy is the clear misrepresentation of the Virgin Atlantic Issue. Dr.Hilaire clearly has not researched the numbers well, because had he done so, it would have revealed that Allen Chastanet as Minister of Tourism never had a budget of $250 million over the five years he served in the position.

Further, the figures which he used to indicate the subsidy spend of other Caribbean islands to Virgin Atlantic are unverifiable since the islands would have signed a confidentiality clause to safeguard the sensitivity of commercial information. The confidentiality clause was never signed by St Lucia as we have never reached an agreement with Virgin Atlantic. And why would responsible governments around the region share this information with Hilaire and open up themselves to further requests from other carriers who may be disadvantaged by the subsidy to another airline? So, another deliberate untruth.

Image of Tourism Minister Dominic Fedee
Tourism Minister Dominic Fedee talks airlift capacity and airline subsidies.

Sorry Dr. Hilaire the right precedent has been set by government respectfully saying no to Virgin Atlantic’s request for subsidy. It is clear to the industry that we are interested in a sustainable business approach as it relates to flights coming to St Lucia. While the government of Saint Lucia supports sharing the financial risk for startup flights, we are of the firm belief that airline routes after two or three years of government support should become financially viable.

In the last 8 months, Saint Lucia has attracted eight new weekly flights with seven directly from Miami and one from Chicago, starting December 19. We are proud that none of the above-mentioned attracted Minimum Return Guarantee (MRG).This demonstration of confidence by other carriers in our destination makes it even more difficult to justify subsidies to any carrier at this time. Like those carriers, I believe in the power of the St Lucian brand, the hospitality prowess of its tourism professionals and the legend of its natural beauty.

The case before us is one that requires critical analysis and not narrow political views as expressed here by Hilaire. It would be difficult to spend 20 percent of our marketing budget for a return of 7 percent of our global passenger arrivals especially when other airlines are planning their growth strategy for St Lucia without the need for subsidies.

Moreover, the aspiration of a regional approach is most ideal in circumstances such as these, but it must also be appreciated that the Caribbean does not have the best track record on the whole subject of integration and functional cooperation. I must highlight that despite our attempts to arrive at a regional consensus on the Virgin matter, we appreciate that our sister Caribbean islands are in a different place in their development of tourism and more importantly airlift capacity. Thankfully on this occasion, St Lucia has the option to say no.

We feel further justified as in consultation with the local private sector on Saturday July 26th, the overriding consensus was that the level of investment required to keep the Virgin flight into St Lucia is burdensome on national tourism marketing budgets. While as an industry both the private and public sectors would have loved to keep the Virgin flight flying, we appreciate that as an industry a better return on investment can be attained. It was a clear business decision in the best interest of St Lucia.

As indicated by me publicly, we continue to be open to further dialogue with Virgin Atlantic with a view to arriving at a mutually beneficial corporate relationship.

1 Comment

  1. I am pleased with the response from government on this issue. It is high time that we have a business approach to using taxpayers money. I hope that this same government will apply this same principle in all aspects of the peoples business. I also wish to highlight to this tourism minister that the South American continent has over four hundred and thirty million people a lot of them wish to visit St. Lucia..language isn’t a barrier. only Spanish and Portuguese. why aren’t we looking at diversifying our Markets when we know too very well that the diversity is what we need to cushion the effects of of an economic slowdown in the north american market. Although he is proud of being in a capacity to say no and he has the brains of an expert past tourism minister to guide his decision, his arguments comes out as arrogant. we must be humble in all our ways. we (government and people) don’t have a great tourism product yet. There is a lot to be done. we are being used by the transnational cruise ships. our Caribbean doesn’t own nor has shares in any of the cruise lines. our Caribbean doesn’t benefit to the maximum from the money of the airlift or the cruise ships that call to our ports, our seaports and airports cost millions to build and maintain. Do we ask these private transnationals to assist?. All their externalities are only felt in their countries of origin . we still cannot organize ourselves as a cartel in the tourism market although we have a region that is a MUST see and MUST come to. so minister with all due respect please be focused, work hard show intelligence, be prudent and innovative and deliver a tourism product. your role and my expectation is to create a revolution in our tourism and not the silly little fight with Richard Bronson who is looking for an extra dollar or Hillaire who is looking for attention. we need to see, feel and know of your intellect and your capacity to transform St Lucia into the mecca of tourism, just do it think outside of the box and deliver, simple. If your prime minister didn’t give you a direct order he just forget to tell you just that. tourism and financial services is our future you have our future in your hands the future of 170k people. don’t take it light and get to work

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