Tourism Minister Dr. Ernest Hilaire has taken issue with opposition leader Allen Chastanet’s remarks regarding this country’s delegation to the Dubai 2020 Expo.
Chastanet had accused Prime Minister Philip J. Pierre of misleading the people of Saint Lucia to minimize the backlash for hosting bigger 43rd Independence Day celebrations in Dubai rather than at home.
And the opposition leader and former Prime Minister asserted that his administration never planned to include any officials from tourism.
“They actually increased the size of the delegation,” Chastanet said of the current Saint Lucia Labour Party (SLP) government which swept to power in a landslide after July 26, 2021, general elections.
However, Tourism Minister Dr. Ernest Hilaire, who was part of the delegation to Dubai, has refuted the opposition leader’s claims.
“I have the correspondence that the leader of the opposition when he was Prime Minister wrote to CIP asking for 1.2 or 3 million EC dollars to finance tourism authority and participating in the Dubai Expo. And I will give you copies of the letter,” Hilaire told reporters.
“The same gentleman who now says they had no intention of including tourism as part of promotions at Expo,” he stated.
The Castries South MP also said he had to respond to Chastanet’s assertion that the labour government only participated in the Dubai Expo because the process had started under the previous administration.
Hilaire recalled that he served as Permanent Representative to the Bureau for International Expositions, assessing various cities worldwide for the hosting of Expo 2020.
He observed that Saint Lucia supported and voted for Dubai, the eventual choice.
“The Expo goes beyond labour party or UWP. It’s an international event,” the Deputy Prime Minister declared.
“Saint Lucia was scheduled to take part. When we came into power in July, we found a budget – the monies provided through the CIP of about $US 600,000 for Saint Lucia’s participation. That was supposed to be in addition to what the government of the UAE would be providing for participation,” the Castries South MP observed.
He told reporters the government reviewed the matter and concluded that if Saint Lucia would spend such a sum, the country should try to make it count as much as possible.
“We then said we did not like what they were planning to do. In fact they didn’t really have a programme of activities as such. They were going to bring people over to Dubai. I can tell you in the budget the Prime Minister’s office had over $US 300,000 out of the $500,000 odd US allocated to it. Think about that. In the 500 odd thousand dollars that was allocated to Dubai Expo, over $US300,000 would fall under the office of the Prime Minister who was then Allen Chastanet,” Hilaire revealed.
But he said the labour administration did not agree with what was in place and thought of expanding the participation.
Hilaire explained that the expansion would include more creative artists from Saint Lucia to expose the country and a chef introducing local cuisine.
In addition, there would be someone involved in fashion to show off clothing, CIP to promote itself, and the Saint Lucia Tourism Authority (SLTA) to sell the destination along with Invest Saint Lucia.
“We wanted to extend the participation. We thought it was not enough to have a twenty minute cultural presentation in the morning but we were going to have a full-fledged cultural presentation in the evening and invite all of Expo to join us,” he noted.
Hilaire expressed the view that in many ways, Saint Lucia created hype and buzz at the event and in the Middle East and North Africa region because the island invited tour operators and investors to see and learn about this country.
On the benefits of participating in the Expo, Hilaire, whose portfolio includes investment, referred to CIP numbers for the last three months of the year.
“You will see a noticeable increase. We can actually track a number of applicants to our presence in Dubai – people who visited the pavilion and the buzz we have created in that part of the world by being there,” he stated.
Hilaire also mentioned contacts made with people who want to buy sea moss from Saint Lucia and data regarding sales of condiments as distributors asked for items from this country
“And you will hear a lot about tourism, the same tourism they said we should not be wasting time to promote in that part of the world,” he asserted.
And Hilaire disclosed that he has a follow-up call with Dubai’s Tourism Minister on Tuesday.
“At the same time they were saying we should not be reaching out to Dubai and that part of the world, Trinidad – Caribbean Airlines were saying they were in discussions with Qatar and signed an agreement with Qatar to set up airline services. Not only Saint Lucia that is looking to move into the space,” Hilaire declared.