Press Release:– After showing signs of recovery, the tourism industry is way behind required pace when one examines the St. Lucia Tourism Authority report on the sector ending December 2021.
The SLTA’s annual report on tourist arrivals shows that after almost two years of COVID 19, the sector is less than at the halfway point from its pre-COVID 19 levels.
Total Tourist arrivals declined in 2021 by 34% or 153 366 less visitors than 2020 (a year rocked by COVID 19).
Many would recall that in 2019 St. Lucia recorded 1.286, 149 overall whilst 423, 736 of those were Stayover arrivals, visitors to hotels. In 2021 the overall number of visitors are down by 34% and almost 75% less than 2019. Therefore suggestions by the Minister of tourism that the Industry is flourishing are at best misleading.
In breaking down the various subsectors of the industry, the Tourism Authority as at December 2021 revealed the following:
Yacht Arrivals are down 79.1% when compared to years 2020
Cruise arrivals are down 68% when compared to year 2020
Stayover arrivals are up 52.4% when compared to the previous year but way below 50% of where it was in 2019.
Looking at the sector by various markets, the SLTA would reveal that the sectors’ performance was carried by the US market which recorded double digit increases when compared to 2020 but rebounded by 79.4% of its 2019 levels. In 2019 the US market recorded 191,719, in 2020 it recorded 67,967 due to COVID and in 2021-152,248.
This was as a direct result of the United Workers Party’s robust and insightful approach to the reopening of the industry in 2021 which took into account three things:
- The 15,000 tourism employees who were out of work and were unable to pay their bills.
- The unprecedented number of airlift available due to the global lock down of the industry.
- The significant fallout of government revenue over 300 million dollars and decimation of wider economy triggering one billion-dollars’ worth of lost activity.
It was during this precarious time for regional and global tourism the United Workers Party led administration was able able to convince the airlines to agree to a set of practical and safe protocols, in an era when there were no vaccines. Our engagements with the aviation sector resulted in historic opening of new gateways to St. Lucia and yielded additional ones. They include:
- A historic American airlines flight out of Dallas
- A historic American Airlines flight out of Chicago
- Return of American Airlines to JFK airport after several years of no service from New York City.
- A historic Jet Blu service out of New Jersey
- Reopening of most gateways previously serviced by the previous pandemic
All of this happened whilst the now Minister of Tourism lead the clarion call by the then opposition SLP to close our borders and derided myself, former Prime Minister Allen Chastanet and the then Cabinet of Ministers for making the decision to restart our tourism industry. Had we listen the Minister, we would have been in a worst position today and way behind the rest of the Caribbean in the recovery of our economic mainstay.
Low Load Factors
Further, It has become extremely urgent now that a robust and proactive strategy be deployed to bolster the load factors (number of occupied air seats) to the island. This comes in the face of data which shows that the average load factor for the month of January 2022 is 51% with some airlines reporting as low as 35% on some days. If the island is plagued by low load factors during the peak winter month of January, it undermines our ability to convince the aviation industry that loads would improve in the summer months, our traditional off-season.
Amend COVID Protocols
There can be no question that from the inception of the pandemic, COVID protocols have been a major impediment for global travel. However I wonder whether today the unfounded and baseless statements made by the previous regime whilst in opposition has now come back to haunt them. Have they paralysed their ability to make sound scientific decisions to optimize the thin balance between lives and livelihoods?
There are loud calls regionally and locally by the tourism private sector to make the protocols for the industry more competitive especially in light of the UK government’s announcement a month ago, that travellers on the return home to the UK no longer require a negative COVID 19 test. Therefore, St. Lucia has the opportunity to be a trendsetter and pioneer a whole new era in COVID travel in the Caribbean.
Both the UK and the US have very high vaccination rates and hotel employees have a pretty high take up too. But the current SLP administration has tied its hands because they have told us that a targeted approach to managing COVID is wrong.
My hope is that sometime soon, the SLP regime will be big enough and do the right thing in the best interest of jobs, wider economic recovery for taxi drivers, vendors and retail shops. The clock on our race against time has started to tick!
Statement by former Tourism Minister Dominic Fedee, currently Leader of Opposition Business in the Senate