Tourism officials are looking forward to a ‘busy summer’ schedule as the island reacclimatize its hospitality sector in the wake of the Covid-19 crisis.
Speaking at a press briefing, on Wednesday, Tourism Minister Dominic Fedee said that Saint Lucia is currently showing signs of a “very strong rebound” as measures are being taken to help the country reel back from the constraints of the pandemic.
He stated that there were also favourable business prospects for resurgence of the cruise sector and the airline industry with more visitors expected on island, this year.
“Our US market …has actually come back some 81% and we are projecting a very strong June, as a lot of hotels are reporting very strong occupancies,” Fedee told reporters.
“We are seeing very, very encouraging signs all around,” he added, stating that some hoteliers are highly optimistic of a positive change in economic fortunes.
With a steady influx of visitors returning to the island, Fedee disclosed that there were prospects for additional flights from the Canadian Market, tentatively due for September. This, he said, would “help to buttress the strong rebound that we’re having, mostly led by the US market.”
The minister reported that British Airwyas (BA) from the UK is currently operating two flights per week “and we anticipate that more air lift will come at the end of July.”
Fedee said expectations are that the ‘fall’ season, will also be strong and tour operators are reporting “tremendous winter months for 2022…and we’ve got some 10 rotations from British Airways from Heathrow Airport.”
He said this development has never occurred before, and so “this gives us a really good opportunity with those flights from Heathrow (Airport).”
Fedee adds that this move opens up prospects for business from Europe “because when you have the same airport connection with flights coming into London, and with the European flights it then makes connectivity that more seamless and it gives us a great opportunity to expand arrival growth.”
Commenting on the cruise line industry, the minister said, while the sector awaits the return of the cruise lines adequate arrangements are being put in place to accommodate visitors to the island.
Fedee stated that while discussions are ongoing, “We are anticipating the return of the first cruise lines to St Lucia…and we want to make sure that we do everything to ensure that this is done in a safe way, and we’re going to do this step by step to ensure that the amount of cruise passengers allowed on island are manageable.”
He asserted: “This is a very collective position that we have with the cruise lines, who are themselves looking at making sure that we have numbers that are manageable. So, we’re very close to announcing with specificity the date by which we will have the first cruise call into St. Lucia.”
Fedee said this would translate into “good news” for vendors, taxi drivers, duty –free employees and companies “and more numbers for sites and attractions.”
He noted that those spin-offs in the tourism ancillary sector would “benefit significantly from this.”
Citing a gradual improvement in rebuilding the economy, Fedee said, more than 10,000 hospitality sector workers have returned to their jobs accounting for at least two-thirds of employment ratio.
“We’ve opened up about over 200 villas, and they have received their Covid license to operate, in addition to 120 more that we are allowing to operate with vaccinated guests only,” he continued.
The minister said allocation has also been made for an additional 200 villas and apartments, locally –owned Airbnb dwellings “so that we can get more people back into the industry.”
He informed that about 15,000 taxi drivers have been certified to operate and the authorities are working closely in collaboration with the ministry of health to “get an additional 4,000 drivers as tourism transportation drivers who are in the business of transfers, to get the ‘H’ plate back into circulation.”
He explained that the car rental sector has also been opened to ‘vaccinated passengers’, as “this sector …haven’t had the ability to do any business from March, 2020 since the pandemic and a lot of businesses were feeling the pinch and were up against it.”
Fedee opined that in light of the gradual resurgence in the economy, the authorities want to ensure that “as many businesses as possible, come back and come back strong.”
On the issue of airlift, the minister said, there has been a 15% increase this summer over 2019, which according to him “was our best year…and when you have more air sets coming into the destination between June and August , it is quite significant.”
Touting the achievements gained during the course of the Covid-19 crisis, Fedee said, the efforts “is actually paying off and we are getting ready to get a new flight from Jet Blue , come July1 out of New York and that’s quite significant .”
He added that this was a ‘historic’ accomplishment “and we are very pleased to see that more routes that we didn’t have prior to Covid are actually emerging.”
Noting, the prospects for a revival of the industry with an increase in visitors to the island, Fedee declared: “This can only bode well for an increase in the numbers and will trickle all the way down to tourism workers and small business in the tourism sector.”