St. Lucia's tourism industry is upbeat as the destination approaches the winter season armed with a new campaign and slogan, a multi-city road show, increased airlift, robust cruise numbers and previously stalled hotel developments that are seemingly back on track.
Allen Chastanet, minister of tourism, ticked off the rays of sunshine in the island's positive forecast while bluntly addressing the dark clouds that have hovered over St. Lucia this year in terms of visitor numbers.
"We've suffered along with the rest of the region," Chastanet said. "Our visitor numbers year to date are down about 8.5%, and we're projecting an overall decrease of 7% by the end of the year, which will translate to a total of approximately 90,000 U.S. arrivals and a total worldwide count of 350,000 visitors."
But the new initiatives, as well as the government stimulus package, which reduced import duties for a year and exempted hoteliers from collecting the hotel occupancy tax for the next six months, has helped pumped optimism into the tourism sector.
"Our new theme and slogan tie in with our image as an unspoiled, undiscovered paradise," Chastanet said. "The 'Legend Has It' campaign highlights our Arawak Indian origins, natural attractions, topography, our signature Pitons and our drive-in volcano."
St. Lucia's village tourism concept, introduced several years ago, encompasses the island's individual communities of storytellers, fishing villages and bustling markets. That's highlighted in a 27-city road show, which includes meetings and presentations with travel agents and operators.
In addition, the tourist board will open a toll-free, on-island telephone sales office, manned 16 hours a day, seven days a week. "This is designed as a support center for agents, especially home-based agents, who can call with questions that will be answered by local tourism people who are knowledgeable about all aspects of St. Lucia's tourism product," Chastanet said.
New airlift includes American's second nonstop Miami flight four days a week, starting in November, to complement the carrier's daily service. JetBlue launches three weekly flights Oct. 26 from New York Kennedy. There is new service out of Canada, the U.K. and Germany. Bids are being taken for a new airport in the south of the island, to be built behind the existing Hewanorra Airport.
Cruise visitors topped 618,000 in the 2008-2009 season, a figure that Chastanet expects will exceed 700,000 this season.
Hotel developments that stalled last fall when financing collapsed appear to be back on track, including the Ritz-Carlton and Westin projects. Several properties will debut expansion programs this fall and early 2010, including Rendezvous, RockResorts' Landings, and Discovery at Marigot Bay. The Tides Sugar Beach, the former Jalousie Plantation, will open in 2010.
"Our newest property is the Hotel Chocolat near the Ladera resort on the west coast. Six rooms will open in January, and the property is connected to a real cocoa plantation where guests can watch cocoa being processed and sample the goods," Chastanet said.
Regarding the issue of crime on St. Lucia, "we're proactive," Chastanet said. "We don't cover it up. We tell people where to go and not to go. More than 120 cops have been added to the tourist areas in Castries, Rodney Bay and Gros Islet plus lots of surveillance cameras."