St. Lucia's new tourism minister makes agents a priority

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NEW YORK -- Menissa M. Rambally, St. Lucia's new minister of tourism, has her priorities straight.

"Travel agents are the major focus of our marketing," Rambally said during a recent visit to New York.

"Our first-ever Piton Awards [ceremony] in February helped cement our ongoing partnerships with agents. We will continue to build on those strengths."

The awards honored St. Lucia's top-selling travel professionals, described by Rambally as "individuals who led the pack in overall performance."

"We wanted to create awards that symbolize overall achievement and that recognize hard-working individuals who sell our island," she said.

Agents were selected to attend the event based on their overall sales of St. Lucia in 1998 and the first half of 1999.

The Piton Awards, which were held on St. Lucia, will be held in December on an annual basis.

Rambally also plans to unveil a marketing strategy that will tap niche markets, focus on St. Lucia's diversity and uniqueness and create alliances with various sectors of the industry.

The island's Web site might also be redesigned.

Helping agents sell St. Lucia are a variety of events and attractions, such as this year's ninth annual Jazz Festival, which runs through May 14.

Coming up from July 1 to 18 is Carnival.

The jazz-fest lineup ranges from soul diva Patti LaBelle to Motown legend Gladys Knight.

Ticket sales this year are well above last year's sales, according to Rambally.

The headquarters hotel for the festival is the newly opened, 300-room Hyatt Regency St. Lucia Resort, although venues are scattered all over the island.

"Hotel development,s such as Hyatt; Rosewood's L'Avanbleu resort under construction next door to the Hyatt, and the new villas at Sandals St. Lucia Golf Resort & Spa allow more airlift to St. Lucia," the minister said.

"Our target for 2002 is 5,000 hotel rooms. We're at 4,000 now and are in discussions with other developers."

Visitors to St. Lucia last year topped 260,000, a 4% increase over 1998. The U.S. market sent 84,000 visitors, a 10.5% jump.

Although the U.S. is "traditionally a winter market," Rambally said that the honeymoon and wedding markets were strong from the U.S. in June and July. This helped account for the 15% visitor increase last summer over the same period in '98.

Nature heritage tourism is a big draw for all travelers to St. Lucia these days, according to Rambally.

St. Lucia has 12 established heritage sites now, all of which are accessible on island itineraries.

The sites are identified by a special logo; 10 more sites will open by year's end.

The sites also attract a number of cruise passengers, a sizable market segment that accounts for 50% of all arrivals and 6% of total expenditures.

"Heritage tours are an opportunity to step away from traditional tours and get involved with locals who are at the sites," Rambally said.

These tours generally cater to smaller groups.

At one site in the island's north, visitors can learn how to prepare cassava, a local vegetable.

Heritage tours are featured in this summer's package offerings.

As part of efforts to diversify the destination, tourism and government officials are studying the issue of gaming facilities in St. Lucia.

Rambally said she expected that legislation would be drafted within the next few months.

"The ministers will have an input, and then it goes to Parliament for debate and possible passage," she said.

Any casino licenses that are granted will be tied to hotel facilities, either existing or new, depending on the size of the properties involved.

An independent, privately operated gaming board would oversee all gaming regulations.

St. Lucia Tourist Board
Phone: (800) 456-3984
E-mail: [email protected]
Web: www.stlucia.org

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