Increasing St. Lucia's Tourism Is Prime Minister's Priority

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BY GAY NAGLE MYERS

Reed Travel Features

NEW YORK -- St. Lucia is on the move -- big-time.

The St. Lucia Labor Party, out of power since 1982, swept to victory in May in the biggest landslide election in the Caribbean island's history.

Dr. Kenny Anthony, party leader and new prime minister, wasted no time in forming his cabinet and setting his priorities.

"We've been given an enormous mandate at a time when many changes are taking place in the Caribbean," Anthony said at his first press reception in New York just weeks after his election.

"Tourism is a top priority in this region, especially for those Caribbean islands that seek to shift the emphasis from the agricultural sector.

"It is time to get back to basics, to return to destination marketing, to increase our visibility and to familiarize tour operators and the press with the lesser-known islands."

Tourism constitutes only 11% of the gross national product on St. Lucia.

"For St. Lucia's economy to grow, tourism must continue to grow," he said. "The future of St. Lucia's tourism is linked to a better understanding of the customer."

Hotels that offer a range of rates as well as air fares that are equitable across the board are among the tourism challenges facing the current government, Anthony said.

Philip Pierre, the new minister of tourism, along with Agnes Francis, the director of tourism, are charged with the allocation of funds for marketing St. Lucia, according to the prime minister.

The island's physical attributes will come into play as the marketing and promotion swing into high gear.

Getting lots of attention specifically will be the West Coast road to Soufriere as well as the Pitons and the world's only drive-in volcano.

Capitalizing on the success that the island's annual jazz festival generates, a Country and Western Festival will debut Dec. 8 to 12.

American Airlines is the participating carrier for both events.

Anthony said that "the addition of Air Jamaica's service and the opening of its Montego Bay hub will benefit St. Lucia's growth.

"In addition, BWIA provides excellent scheduled service to St. Lucia from New York and Miami," he said.

Recent hotel developments on St. Lucia include the announcement by SuperClubs of construction of a 500-room Breezes resort later this year.

"This addition will enhance our existing hotel plant, which includes two Sandals properties, a Wyndham property and LeSport and Rendezvous resorts," Anthony said.

Jalousie will reopen later this year as a member of the Hilton International family, and several smaller properties have joined the accommodations roster.

Anthony said that the government is in discussion with a major U.S. hotel chain, and an announcement is expected by year's end.

"This government is committed to tourism," Anthony said. "We need to work together to ensure that the customer gets good value on St. Lucia."

Helping push the value angle for visitors to St. Lucia is the new Island Adventure program available through November at a number of resorts.

Anthony pointed to the Summer Adventure card, a package component, as an example of a tourist enhancement that has benefits to both the visitor and the island.

The card is issued to participants upon arrival on St. Lucia and features reductions ranging from 10% to 25% on a number of adventure programs -- from climbing the Pitons to waterfall and rain forest hikes, plantation tours, scuba diving, riverboat tours, fishing and visits to the Botanical Gardens, Soufriere Springs and other attractions.

Shopping, dining, car rentals, kids' activities and nightclub admissions also are deeply discounted.

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