The opposition Saint Lucia Labour Party has challenged the Tourism Minister on data presented in regard to the performance of the tourism industry.
Castries South MP, Doctor Ernest Hilaire issued the challenge at a news conference Wednesday.
The following is his opening statement to the conference:
The Saint Lucia Labour Party appeals to the Minister of Tourism to give Saint Lucians a truthful appraisal of the tourism industry.
It cannot serve Saint Lucia well if the sole intent is to use figures in a distorted and deceptive manner. The arrivals data presented for tourism is very revealing and exposes the incompetence of the Hon. Minister for Tourism in ways in which he is not even aware. Let’s carefully examine the information and see what conclusions we come to.
1. Tourism arrivals to Saint Lucia increased by 10.2% but this was achieved largely through increases in cruise ship visitors and yacht arrivals!
2. The Minister did not state that stay-over arrivals, which is what is the core of the tourism industry had only increased by 2.2%. It is stay over arrivals that provide the highest visitor spending and is the most significant source of revenue for Saint Lucia.
3. The 2.2% increase was largely caused by an unusually high increase in March 2018. No explanation was given by the Minister for this exceptionally high increase. It may be due to the large number of visitors for the traditional Easter Weekend.
4. Since March 2018, with that unusual high stay over arrivals, there were less stay-over visitors to Saint Lucia for March to December 2018 compared to March to December 2017. This means less stay over visitors came to Saint Lucia for the last 9 months of 2018. The Minister must explain to Saint Lucia why did this occur.
5. It is also noted that the Soliel Festival was presented as a summer of festivals which would boost stay over tourist arrivals. According to Prime Minister, Hon. Allen Chastanet at SOLEIL’s official launch in St Lucia on 2nd February 2017 at the Bay Gardens Hotel, “the idea is when you come to Saint Lucia you can stay all summer long with the extensive events calendar and no shortage of amazing places and sites to visit”.
Last year the following festivals were hosted:
(i) Saint Lucia Food & Rum Festival (January 2018) (ii) Saint Lucia Jazz Festival (May 2018)
(iii) Saint Lucia Carnival (July 2018)
(iv) Roots & Soul Festival (September 2018)
(v) Arts & Heritage Festival (October 2018)
The Country & Blues Festival was never held in 2017 and was not mentioned for 2018.
We also had CPL cricket and Mercury Beach in August 2018.
6. Let us take a look at stay over visitor arrival for the period when these Festivals were hosted.
(i) Saint Lucia Food & Rum Festival (January 2018) – Peak time for arrivals. Only 3.5% increase. (ii) Saint Lucia Jazz Festival (May 2018) – 841 more persons or 2.7% increase.
(iii) Saint Lucia Carnival (July 2018) – a decline of 1.2%!
(iv) Roots & Soul Festival (September 2018) – a decline of 6.5%!!
(v) Arts & Heritage Festival (October 2018) – a decline of 7.1%!!
(vi) CPL and Mercury Beach in August 2018 – 768 more persons or 3.3% increase.
7. From these figures is the Soliel Summer Festivals achieving its stated objectives as announced by the Prime Minister? Can the Minister explain to us why stay are over arrivals decreasing during these Festivals? The record is clear and very instructive. Those events have no positive impact on our visitor flows, which raises the big question about their relevance and the recent realignment with the Tourism Authority. I eager await a report on how much those events are costing the tax payer of this country, for the seemingly negligible benefits.
8. Let us focus on cruise ship arrivals as this is what drove the overall increase of 10.2%. Cruise ship arrivals increase from 669,217 to 760,306, an overall increase of 91,089 or 13.6%.
However, the number of cruise ships coming to Saint Lucia is declining. From 423 to 370 ships, a decline of 53 ships or 12.5%. So our increases are because BIGGER ships are coming to Saint Lucia.
Again we have to ask the Hon. Minister why are the number of cruise ships coming to Saint Lucia declining so significantly.
9. The tourism figures show also that Saint Lucia’s performance with stay over arrivals among other Caribbean countries is declining. Saint Lucia was leading the region between 2012 and 2013. That position was lost when the largest hotel in Saint Lucia was closed to make way for the Royalton Hotel. However, presently, stay over arrivals to our region, according to statistics from the Caribbean Tourism Organisation increased by approximately 6 per cent in 2018, even while all the data has not been reported as yet. Therefore, our 2.2 per cent growth has to be seen as slower that of our average competitor in the region. Add to all of this, that this Minister is overseeing a tourism plant with more than 10 per cent more rooms than we had in the previous administration, and yet featuring less than par performance.
10. So the fundamental question is, from a policy perspective, can the Minister outline any new policy initiatives that have been implemented under his tenure that he can claim will transform tourism in Saint Lucia? And while he is thinking the answer is NONE. The reality is that there have been no new initiatives from a policy perspective. Sadly, or expectedly, we have not had any tangible innovation under his tenure.
11. Tourism and the Minister of Tourism is another sad example of FAILURE AND INCOMPETENCE of the UWP Government.
12. After years of painstaking work by successive Labour administrations to transform and transition the Tourism industry towards greater local participation and opportunities, the Allen Chastanet-led UWP Government has reversed many of the gains made. Many vegetable, produce, livestock and other farmers who previously supplied the hotel industry, have gone out of business, because the Allen Chastanet regime has removed protection for those persons and allowed the hotels to import those items at duty free prices. In addition, the Allen Chastanet regime has undermined local producer associations like the Saint Lucia Marketing Board, the Saint Lucia Fish Marketing Corporation and the livestock farmers who would have occupied the new Meat Processing Plant which they have decided to demolish. All of this is calculated to undermine local ownership and participation and strengthen the stranglehold of friends, family and foreigners over our people. In the Taxi sector we heard of duty free vehicles being granted to favoured foreign hotels for guests’ transportation, while the concessions previously granted to local taxi drivers were withdrawn. The Prime Minister and the Minister will not answer questions on their conflict of Interest relative to the Sandals Group or the Castries Comprehensive School, but they will boast about Tourism numbers, where the dollars are not filtering through to Saint Lucians as they did before.
13. It is time that the Prime Minister and the Tourism Minister ask Ras Ipa and The Vendors Association members whether they are feeling the effect of the tourism numbers they boast about. Let them ask Lucien Joseph and the various Taxi Associations, why their members are struggling to make ends meet while they boast of Tourism numbers? Tell them to ask the young people of Saint Lucia why they are not getting jobs in the tourism industry and they can ask the employees of the very hotels where the guests are supposed to be, why are they being sent on rotation and laid off during the very heart of the tourist season?
14. Whilst the Minister is boasting about skewed numbers has he accounted for the closure of the Blu Hotel just before the Christmas and indicate how many rooms and jobs have been lost and whether the workers have received their money? Whilst the Government has been so generous to OJO Labs and DSH, have they bothered to champion the workers in the tourism industry? Numbers are booming, profitability is at an all-time high but are the workers getting any more pay? Is Government championing the working conditions at the hotels?
15. Minister it is not just about numbers it is about the impact of the industry. I look forward to the day soon when we will present a people’s vision of the tourism industry.