As regional governments seek out ways and means to create more job opportunities in light of the prevalent Covid-19 health and economic crisis, a regional marine specialist has identified prospective employment in that industry.
In the aftermath of a six-month regulatory Covid-19 pandemic ‘lockdown’ on island, Cuthbert Didier, regional marine consultant feels that the authorities must tap into alternative job prospects as they attempt to rebound the economy.
While noting that infrastructural development of ports and marinas is vital, he said, the entertainment package that Saint Lucia offers to visitors can also play a major part in helping to boost economic returns.
Didier says amongst other locations on island, the Pt. Seraphine touristic hub is due for a major overall infrastructural phase to transition into a more viable economic entity.
He said Pt. Seraphine should be fully utilized to cater for mega yachts; while the Vieux Fort Port could be the next big port on island to offer professional yachting facilities and services.
While emphasizing that a fully developed entertainment package could add value to the tourism product, Didier said: “Antigua is one of the few islands with a robust yachting product that the entertainment business plays a critical role in.”
He said that post Covid-19, Saint Lucia needs to review its entertainment offerings “and focus on attracting or keeping visiting yachts persons, cruisers, and mega yachts here through its entertainment. We have a lot of gifted musicians from steel band to jazz …and functions like our carnival, jazz festival prior to covid-19 was a huge attraction for visiting yachts’ persons including the ARC –Atlantic Rally for Cruisers.”
He also mentioned the ‘Mercury Beach ‘bash, which he said, at one time was held over four (4) days. Didier, a promoter of the Mercury Beach event said the event also “brought in a lot of fast boats from Martinique”.
He said the promoters are also looking into the possibility of hosting a fourth Russian Regatta, hopefully sometime next March and “I’m working with the authorities to make that a reality.”
Didier says in order to get the ball rolling, “We need to engage these entertainment persons …to have quality entertainment within areas where yachts are either moored or marinas.”
He said that in addition to building great marinas, there is also need to provide visitors with leisure and entertainment activities for them to partake in.
“Entertainment activity must be present at ports of entry like Pt. Seraphine and Soufriere,” he said, adding that the opportunity must always be taken to showcase Saint Lucia’s unique culture such as the La Rose and La Maguerite festivals at the island’s ports.
“Yachts persons by nature love to explore …they are explorers,” Didier said.
Didier noted that post COVID-19, there is going to be “memorable, real lifetime experiences …and I think when people get out of this lockdown they will want to go out even more and get a sense of ‘limited time’ and we need to position ourselves to give them these memorable occasions.”
He feels strongly that in the event of a rebound from COVID-19, Saint Lucia needs to position itself to offer unique events, such as portrayal of the ‘Hewanorra Story’, “investing in local calypso and our language and our history.”
He says there must be a ‘shared history’ amongst the islands in promotion of the tourism product with more focus on yachting since “all these islands have a volcano, specific rum, a unique dish …nine islands are a lot of islands to visit.”
Didier opined that whereas the Village Tourism concept is a good first attempt to create standards, nonetheless, it is very important “for you need to have standards.”
He expressed the viewpoint that the fishing village of Gros Islet has “more potential than a Gros Islet ‘Friday Night’ and the same applies for Anse La Raye and Canaries.” More thrust should be invested into ‘pairing with the communities’ and to analyse what they have to offer.
He said these villages along the west coast need to create “an ambience on the waterfront that is clean and inviting. Secondly, a government policy may have to be established for us to have the necessary infrastructure that can allow visiting yachts persons to come by dinghies.”
Didier added: “We need to open up these villages …to the yachting sector.”
He noted that amongst the islands, “Antigua stands out” and other thriving destinations include St Martin, St Baths, “and even Martinique where the yachting sector was confined to La Marin and is now spreading in a big way . Martinique is becoming a really huge player in the charter-based operations.”
And what about the maintenance aspect, does Saint Lucia possess the professional expertise to offer competent services to these visiting yachts persons?
“We have come a long way,” Didier replied. “From my days of managing the IGY Rodney Bay Marina in the late 80s to the 90s we’ve really come a long way, but again we need to have that collaboration. The transfer of skills from Taiwan to our boat builders. We have young men and women that have invested…they’ve started the business but they need access to capital.”
He said there is a reluctance from the banks to regard yachting as a “viable sector and so there are restrictions or hesitation to loan funds to persons”; and so, the private sector and financial agencies need to step up to assist in this transition geared towards the overall development of the marine industry.
Didier says that post covid-19, Saint Lucia needs to step up “because the challenge will be tough …and if we don’t put certain things in place we will be left behind.”
He asserted that the yachting sector creates unique opportunities for a cluster of services to grow quickly…whether it’s a guy engaged in woodwork, a mechanic, someone with a laundry mart service or someone who sells ice.
He adds that yachts persons “simulate into our local economy, they go grocery shopping, they eat food, they drink rum …and they do what we do and they become Saint Lucians while they are here.”
In the long run, Didier says, he envisages the establishment of a department of yachting within the ambit of a government ministry.
“Land-based tourism and yachting complement each other …but yachting has some unique challenges and opportunities and you need persons that understand the product,” noted Didier, who has served under respective former government administrations.
“It’s not a fast fit …and still within the frame of government and governance very few understand the yachting industry. You need a champion if you are to make any tangible progress in that direction,” he said.
He informed that the most recent UN ECLAC study (2015) “shows that in eight islands of the Eastern Caribbean, yachting brought in five times more than cruise ships to the economy. And for some reason, the ministers of finance, ministers of tourism, prime ministers and SLASPAs do not appreciate that value and do not build on it. Only one island has done it successfully and that is St. Martin…and in my view, next in line is Grenada and St. Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG).”
Didier says there must be more collaboration amongst government ministries, for instance, like being able to gain access to available data on the average spending per yachtsmen on island.
He noted that having an OECS representation at global boat shows would create a greater impact for the product than the islands showing up with their individual displays.
Didier added : “Covid has tested the patience of yachting people all over the world and post Covid these people are going to places like Australia and the Pacific …and we in the region have to add value to our : Sun , Sea and Sand promo, we need to add value to this.”
He assessed that the trend of travel is dependent on the availability of health facilities at the destination and therefore, there should be greater collaboration amongst the OECS territories and associate member Martinique.
He said collaboration and strategic alliances are important components towards tackling this issue holistically; while stressing that young Saint Lucians need to develop skills in the art of boat building.
“Let us focus on facilitation and let us understand, discuss, do the research, explore best practices in the world and the yachting trend and we will get to understand that’s a trillion dollar industry that we are literally playing around with,” Didier asserted.