By: Wilson Jn. Baptiste
The current global economic crisis has exposed the weaknesses in the structure of our tourism industry and also the weaknesses in the expert knowledge of those charged with the responsibility for managing this industry. As a result, we are witnesses to a plethora of expensive “smoke and mirrors” aimed at distracting us from analyzing our tourism leaders objectively. Therefore, we must look to new extra ordinary ideas on how to prosper in these extra ordinarily troubling economic times.
The attractive features of St. Lucia provide the basis for developing the tourism industry; they form the most essential element of the tourism product. However, imagination, perspective and objectivity are essential in identifying, evaluating and developing these attractions. Therefore, attractions should be identified that reflect the island’s inherent, distinctive, unique natural and cultural character, and be authentically developed to reinforce these characters.
The performing art forms, including dance, music and drama have been ignored at a period in our History when we have a living Nobel Laureate in Literature, Hon. Derek Walcott, and a deceased Nobel Laureate in Economics, Sir. Arthur Lewis and former Mr. Universe, Rick Wayne. These two Nobel Laureates and Mr. Universe represent brilliance and excellence, respectively, at the highest level. As a result, we need to harness these success stories in the “Village of Brilliance and Excellence.”
The “Village of Brilliance and Excellence” should be located in Vieux Fort, where there currently exist large expanses of flat land and where the Village will represent the fulcrum around which St. Lucia’s tourism products should rotate. This Village should constitute the Hon. Derek Walcott Performing Art Center, the Sir Arthur Lewis Thinkers Paradise and the Rick Wayne Center for Health and Fitness, because these two Nobel Laureates and Mr. Universe have achieved global name recognition, resulting in the effective marketing of the “Village.”
The Hon. Derek Walcott’s Performing Art Center should represent the arena where St. Lucian and other global artists can enhance and market their skills. This Center should provide an environment for a variety of world-class events including concerts, performance and events. The Center should also consist of distinct theaters, performing arts conservatory, rehearsal halls, boutiques, restaurants and banquet facilities. In addition, it should also be designed with dance studios with sprung floors, a sound/lighting laboratory, technical theater workshop, rehearsal hall, costume shop, isolation/sound booth, state-of-the-art black box theater and media arts/TV studio. The design of this Center should not only focus on the talent to be displayed within its walls, but it should also create opportunities for the development of new skills set required for the operational and technical management of this institution.
Sir Arthur Lewis’ Thinkers Paradise should represent a state of the art institution where scholars and students can engage in research and development and debates. In addition, this institution should mirror his high character, humility, tolerance, courage, consistency of character, whether in the academic world or in public life and generosity in time and talent in both academic life and public service. Further, this institution should also include a road map of how Sir Lewis moved from humble beginnings to Nobel Laureate. This road map should involve his sacrifices, anxieties, failures and determination.
The Sir Arthur Lewis’ Thinkers Paradise will assist in the migration of St. Lucian society from analyzing activities based on emotions to analysis based on the mental processes of abstract thinking and reasoning. In addition, this institution will also assist in the development of highly sophisticated skills needed to reason and understand, especially in combination with broad knowledge. Further, it should serve as the catalyst for the development of a closely organized system of beliefs, values and ideas, forming the basis for a social, economic or political philosophy or program. Finally, there will be the need for the creation of a new skills set to manage, market and sustain this institution.
The Rick Wayne Center for Health and Fitness should not only focus on the physical development of St. Lucians, but also on the tenacity, raw grit and determination needed to achieve excellent physical development. The story of Rick Wayne speaks of the journey of a young St. Lucian who refused to accept excuses for failing but instead went in search of reasons to succeed. As a result of this approach, when Wayne did not have access to traditional weight-training equipment during his teens, he built muscle using an old axle and some crude plates made from pieces of lead. In addition, he combined the development of his physique with reading Joe Weider’s YOUR PHYSIQUE and molded his physique along the lines of established muscle stars like Leo Roberts, George Paine and Leroy Colbert. Further, Wayne developed other interest like singing and writing which sustained him as he migrated from competitive bodybuilding to a career based on his intellect. The Wayne Center for Health and Fitness will serve as a positive distraction for the youth, improve the quality of health of St. Lucians, thereby reducing health costs and also serve as a magnet for health tourism enthusiast. Finally, this center will create opportunities for Health and Fitness professionals, operational managers, sports managers, nutritionist and others.
The “Village of Brilliance and Excellence” will also be a showcase for the intellectual contribution of other St. Lucians to nation building. These other St. Lucians should include the late Sir John Compton, Bro. George Odlum, Boo Hinkson, Sesane Descartes and other great nationals who have left their impressions and those that are currently creating an impression on the quality of life that we are enjoying. In addition, the Village should also serve as the home for handicrafts and host to various types of cultural festivals related to local traditions and arts which are both major attractions to visitors. This Village, when combined with the climate, scenic beauty, beaches and marine areas, flora and fauna, special environmental features, parks and conservation areas will enhance St. Lucia’s efforts at refreshening, repositioning and moving the tourism industry from “mass tourism” to “class tourism.”
The development of the “Village of Brilliance and Excellence” will come at considerable costs. We should not expect government’s financial support because government’s role seems to be the extraction of taxes from poor St. Lucians for the purpose of providing concessions, tax incentives and bail outs for investors. However, we must not despair but we should instead delve into the deepest recesses of our creative and imaginative reservoirs for strategies aimed at raising the needed capital for this venture. In addition, we as a people must be prepared to make heavy duty sacrifices if we want to control the direction of the tourism sector and the economy. Therefore we should take full responsibility for the finance, design, construction and operation of the “Village of Brilliance and Excellence.” How is this possible?
The development of the Village can best be attained through the implementation of the St. Lucia Global Development Fund and the St. Lucia Global Skills Bank. These two institutions will serve to increase the size of St. Lucia from 238 square miles to all areas where St. Lucians reside. The thrust of the Development Fund will be based on the pooling of economic resources whereby 10,000 St. Lucians will be identified and required to each contribute US$20.00 or EC$53.60 to this fund monthly. This transaction will be translated into US$200,000.00 or EC$536,000.00 on a monthly basis or US$2.4 million or EC$6,432,000.00 on an annual basis. This structure distributes the risks among a pool of St. Lucians and will not require major sacrifices on the part of individual St. Lucians for raising huge amounts of money for investments both at home and globally. The government should treat this investment by St. Lucians at home as a deductable for tax purposes. However, the Global Development Fund will not achieve its goals if it is not attached to skills set through the St. Lucia Global Skills Bank.
The St. Lucia Global Skills Bank will serve as the vehicle for managing these funds globally for the purpose of achieving the highest returns. This Skills Bank should serve as a magnet to attract St. Lucian professionals globally for the purpose of contributing to the socio-economic development of the island and also to prepare nationals for both intellectual and economic independence, which is critical at this juncture, as we prepare to absorb the full impact of this global economic crisis. The marriage of these two institutions will serve to liberate the grass roots from seeking assistance from the government which they elected for the purpose of not assisting them. In addition, these two institutions will be positioned to invest funds in ideas which would require equity participation, which the grass root does not have, from the local financial institutions. As a result of these two institutions, St. Lucia will experience a people with high expectations, high self esteem and the motivation to be creative and imaginative for the purpose of creating greater benefits for the greatest number of St. Lucians both at home and abroad.
The tourism sector must serve as the catalyst for the socio-economic challenges facing the island at this time. However, this industry must be re-integrated back into the economic fiber of the island and not be positioned as a separate appendage managed by a few who are profit driven. Therefore, the architecture of the CDC buildings and Faux-a-Chaux must be preserved and repackaged as part of our cultural tourism product. This repackaging can be achieved through the Global Development Fund and the Global Skills Bank. However, we need leadership in the tourism industry that understands who we are, where we are going to, why we are going in a specific direction and how we are going to arrive at our destination as one people. Further, we must accept and appreciate the reality that we are living in extraordinary times which require extraordinary actions on our part, if we are going to leave a better St. Lucia for the next generation and to reduce the level of crime being committed by a young generation suffering from despair. The election of an African American as President of the United States of America, Barack Obama, should instill hope and a sense of self confidence in us. We as St. Lucians should seize this moment to re-capture our dreams and develop a St. Lucia which will allow us to display our creative and imaginative energies to the global community. There should be nothing magical about us achieving brilliance and excellence because Hon. Derek Walcott, Sir Arthur Lewis and Rick Wayne all did and “yes we can.”