Dominic Fedee is a busy man these days. He wears many hats as St. Lucia's minister of tourism, information, broadcasting and culture as well as serving as the chair of the Caribbean Tourism Organization.
But he took a time out last week to update me on numerous projects on St. Lucia, some already underway, some still in the planning stages, and one in particular awaiting legislative action.
As Travel Weekly reported, major projects include a new terminal at Hewanorra airport, the international gateway in Vieux Fort in the south of the island. That $157 million Hewanorra project, much of it financed by a loan from the government of Taiwan, is slated for completion near the end of 2020.
"Increasing the airport's capacity will provide St. Lucia with leverage to negotiate more airlift and attract more airline partners," Fedee said.
The island currently is served by year-round and seasonal flights from eight U.S. gateways on American, Delta, JetBlue and United.
Improving land transportation is on Fedee's mind too. He plans to repair and upgrade the island's road system, particularly on the west coast route that bumps and curves north from the airport. The goal is to link resort areas throughout the island, making them more easily accessible to visitors who want to explore more than one resort or region in a single visit.
Upgrading the water supply and strengthening the island's security forces are top priorities as well.
"We are being proactive in our approach to the safety of our visitors and residents," Fedee said.
An update in cruise and hotels
The island has already expanded its berth capacity at its cruise port at Pointe Seraphine in Castries, but to be more competitive in the homeporting business, the minister told me that plans are afoot for a second cruise port in the south, near the airport.
The current port in Castries on the northwest coast counted more than 760,000 cruise passengers in 2018, a 13.8% jump over the previous year. This month more than 143,000 cruisers are expected in Castries.
"We're projecting a 15% increase in cruise arrivals this year," Fedee said. "A second port will allow us to grow the cruise business with calls from bigger ships." And, he added, its proximity to the airport would give easy access to passengers beginning or ending a cruise in St. Lucia.
Regarding the accommodations sector, St. Lucia currently offers more than 4,500 hotel rooms and 1,000 Airbnb listings. Room stock is projected to increase by 50% in the next five years, Fedee said.
"We've got 2,000 rooms coming on board, including a fourth Sandals in the north, the Fairmont St. Lucia at Sunset Bay near Hewanorra, a Ritz-Carlton near the twin Piton volcano spires, two Zoetry and Dreams-branded properties on the southeast coast and a Hyatt on the north coast, among others," he said.
Legislation on Village Tourism
Another project that's coming along is the Village Tourism plan, which encourages tourists to live like locals as another option to vacationing in St. Lucia. The project is expected to launch once legislation to set standards of design, safety and management is final, probably in May, the minister said.
The plan will initially encompass eight villages, including Gros Islet in the north, Anse La Raye on the west coast, Dennery on the east and Soufriere on the west with a view of the Pitons. Each village will have its own theme, such as wellness, art and island customs. With the help of low-interest financing, property owners in each village will be encouraged to upgrade their homes and cottages to make them suitable as accommodations for visitors.
All owners will be licensed and will undergo training to ensure that the accommodations and services are at the same level as they would be in a hotel or resort.
Tourists will be able to meet with potters and cooks, basket weavers and fishermen and experience the life of a thriving village and its people, according to Fedee.
"I think we will begin to see tangible results from this project by the end of the year," he said.