With the cruise sector in high demand – tourism industry stakeholders are planning to put mechanisms in place for the return of cruise passengers to the destination.
Ministry of tourism officials anticipate a robust season where various sub-sectors including sites and attractions, local water-based sector, food & beverage, tourism transportation and recreation will get another opportunity “to reap the economic benefits from the cruise sector”.
Consequently, a meeting was convened to engender discourse among industry stakeholders on the way forward for the hospitality sector and to also discuss the newly updated travel protocols and cruise port logistics. The meeting involved representatives from a wide cross section of Government and non-Government agencies, responsible for setting policy, marketing and management of Saint Lucia’s cruise sub-sector.
Speaking to reporters, Thursday, CEO of the St Lucia Tourism Authority (SLTA) Loraine Charles- St Jules says the cruise sector represents an integral part of the tourism industry and such a meeting was warranted to help stakeholders rebound despite the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We do anticipate that there will be a healthy amount of cruise arrivals coming to the destination. So, the discussion really is to let us discuss what are the standards that we should live by, not only for Saint Lucians but also for visitors who are coming to our shores,” said St. Jules.
“The cruise sector is a very competitive industry and Saint Lucia wants to ensure that we remain competitive for the visitors,” she added. “We want to ensure that the overall experience of the arrivals and the visitors …that they do have a beautiful experience on the island.”
Tourism officials announced the commencement of the 2022/2023 cruise season with the arrival of Celebrity Millennium on Wednesday, October, 12.
Since the sector’s re-opening in 2021 amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, the island recorded a total of 317 cruise calls and welcomed 240,567 cruise passengers onto the shores of Saint Lucia during the period June 2021 to September 2022.
In preparing for the season, St. Jules said, there has been lots of internal dialogue among stakeholders and views on implementing marketing strategies. She is also set to attend a few global tourism forums with major cruise ship owners in attendance and from a policy level the onus is to “let us see where Saint Lucia stands and how competitive we are, not just for this season but beyond.”
Taking a collaborative approach to resuscitate the tourism industry, St Jules added: “We are going to market to present all the services that we have, all the cruise companies like Cox & Co., and Foster Inc. they have joined us and provided us with a lot of feedback with what the customers are asking. And we as a destination with the Ministry of Tourism, we have prepared a product to ensure a great success for the cruise sector in 2022.”
There has been concerns from the small business people and in particular the craft market vendors, stating that the ‘tourist dollar’ does not filter down to the average worker in the industry. Do the authorities plan to address that issue?
“The small sector is of major concern to the Ministry of Tourism …so we have engaged them immensely in trying to ensure that when the customers disembark from the cruise, they will be able to interact with them,” said St. Jules.
She recalled that in the midst of the pandemic, there was a “bubble experience” and since then “that has been removed and because all the COVID protocols have been relaxed, we do anticipate that the small business person will be able to achieve some benefits.”
The SLTA official continued, “Because now with the tail-end and measured and managed interaction with the visitor, we believe that there will be some benefits.”
However, due to the competitive nature of the hospitality industry, St Jules feels that craft vendors need to up their game and be more creative with the presentation and display of their products.
“In any cruise destination, the vendors as well have to be a little more competitive …we have to ensure that we offer something a little bit different as a vendor,” she said. “What you are offering the potential visitors, make sure that it is something special and that it is memorable.”
She adds that the SLTA has been in constant dialogue with the vendors “to ensure that they get up to standard offering more variations to the visitor.”
Dr. Michelle Francois, National Etymologist, Ministry of Health noted the department’s critical role in helping to sustain a healthy and safe environment for locals and visitors, alike.
She said that throughout the pandemic, health officials have worked in tandem with other government departments and other stakeholders in the tourism industry “to ensure that we had a smooth transition and we kept, at the same time, balancing the health of Saint Lucians.”
Dr. Francois added, “As we strive to return to normal …and so too with the cruise season we continue to work with them as we recognize the importance of tourism to our country.”
She said Thursday’s discourse was one in a long line of meetings that the stakeholders plan to convene “to discuss our protocols, to discuss ways that we can keep improving our tourism industry and cruise industry and we are very eager to see the cruise season commence.”