The launch of the Soco House brand-product in Saint Lucia, signals a new trend in hotel development and accommodation for clients.
Chairman and CEO of Soco House, Ralph Taylor, resplendent in his attire for the opening occasion, was glowing with commendation for the urgency of the works undertaken to bring the project to fruition. He also acknowledged the input of several government departments, agencies and stakeholders involved in the process.
He said, the occasion was akin to a “new dawn” as Soco House, a 76-room boutique resort, as it seeks to expand its footprint as the preeminent all-inclusive brand in the region. And stating that there were prospects for growth and revenue from these other “small gems” hotels, he appealed to regional governments to embrace this initiative that has the potential to boost the region’s tourism industry.
A gathering of government officials, hospitality industry personnel, invited guests and staffers of Soco House were treated to a glamorous official launch ceremony, last Saturday, to herald the inception of this new addition to the local hospitality sector.
“The Soco idea was born out of the fact that 70% of all Caribbean hotels are under 50 rooms. Many of these hotels are Mom and Pop operations offering bed and breakfast…and some of them are high quality little gems that have world class status,” declared Taylor.
“These Gems are the cravings of a new discerning world-wide traveller who) is seeking a more personalized holiday in a stress-free environment with great food, wine, and service,” he added.
Furthermore, noted Taylor: “This hotel segment is the new trend and is generating more and more popularity among the traveling public. A number of large international hotel chains are also embracing this market segment.”
The Soco House CEO explained that the initiative began with the acquisition of Hotel Blue, and despite the many challenges encountered during the peak of the Covid-19 pandemic, the hard work and dedication of the construction crew pulled through. He described the efforts as a “herculean task”, while noting that, “We were able to complete the construction by the end of the Covid-19 period”.
With a return to business in the hospitality sector, Taylor said, “This hotel provides significant employment year-round and brings much needed foreign exchange to St Lucia.”
He added that it was not an easy exercise to be undertaken in these crucial times, however, the Soco management is grateful for the support of a worthwhile regional institution such as the National Commercial Bank of Anguilla that were “willing to finance this idea”.
“The Soco Brand promises modern, boutique all – inclusive hotels, farm to table food, in a laid back environment with personalized service and where all meals are a la carte (no buffets at Soco),” Taylor remarked. “All Soco Hotels are adult only. There has been an excellent reception to this new product. Every major tour operator selling St Lucia globally is selling our product.”
While requesting locals to partake of this new hotel service, he said, this initiative presents “a great opportunity for regional governments to facilitate the reformation of these little gems many of which are in prime locations and can be at the core of not just changing but also enhancing our tourism products.”
Taylor adds, “There is the potential for significant increase in employment and foreign exchange from these gems. These hotels are largely owned by indigenous persons and are the basis of locals and regional persons having a share of the tourism pie.”
He commended the government for its Collection de Pépites – A collection of the small hotels, villas and B & B accommodations “that today, represents 30% of all room stocks in the island.”
Said Taylor: “This creates a balanced tourism product with diversity and uniqueness that attracts the new discerning customer. This grouping of hotels helps to place destination St. Lucia among an elite group of countries with this type of offerings.”
He proposed that every effort should be taken “to expand this sector to increase local ownership and to cascade tourism into the communities. Such action will place St. Lucia at the forefront of this new market trend.”
He spoke about the significance of establishing a level playing field in the sector, and advised regional governments to afford “this hotel segment” the same level of facilitation that they give to the larger hotels with, such as tax benefits and concessions.
Noting the prospects within the tourism sector to sustain livelihoods, Taylor asserted: “This industry has the potential to solve our employment challenges. To provide work for many at all levels.
“There is the opportunity to create several linkages across society. We should be embracing our artistic community.”
While substantiating the need for visitors to experience authentic Lucian cuisine during their stay, the Soco CEO implored the authorities to make it accessible for guests “to experience a traditional Sunday lunch in a St. Lucian home”. Also, he said, government agencies should consider assisting ordinary Saint Lucians to offer “home accommodation for those who want the authentic Lucian vacation”.
Additionally, said Taylor, Soco’s “farm to table programme should see greater engagement with local farmer and fisher folk. The message quite simply is that we need to maximize the tourism potential by embracing all sectors of the community.”
In welcoming the gathering, Prime Minister Phillip J Pierre noted that this hotel development adds a new dimension to Saint Lucia’s tourism product.
He said a total of 76 rooms have been added to boost the local hospitality sector, and the initiative also helps to boost the regional tourism trade.
PM Pierre acknowledged the input of the Barbadian hotelier and the company’s interest and investments in Saint Lucia.
He said that the former dilapidated property was acquired “and transformed into this magnificent hotel facility, which will add 76 rooms to our hotel stock and create direct employment for scores of workers…and indeed, has created employment for scores of workers.”
More importantly, said Pierre, “This is another Caribbean hotel brand that is starting to spread and take root in a sister Caribbean country…and our own Le Sport brand has spread to Grenada”.
He added, “We see great value in development of hotel brands across the region, in keeping with the true spirit of our Caribbean Single Market and Economy (CSME).”
PM Pierre further noted, “For many decades tourism has been the largest contributor to our national income and employment in the economy. And so, tourism is everyone’s business in this country and we have to ensure that the benefits accrue to as many people as possible.”
He said the country has grown to appreciate the far reaching effects of the tourism dollar, as “it affects our lives directly and indirectly with agriculture, creative industries, manufacture and services and provides thousands of jobs for Saint Lucians and people in the region.”
Pierre declared: “We must continue to create an environment, where these jobs are sustainable and provide a decent standard of living for the workers.
“Both the government and the private sector have been investing heavily in developing and marketing Saint Lucia’s tourism product , which has shown remarkable growth and resilience to external shocks over the years.”