ADDRESS BY THE HON. PHILIP J. PIERRE,
MINISTER FOR COMMERCE, TOURISM, INVESTMENT & CONSUMER AFFAIRS
AT THE SAINT LUCIA HOTEL & TOURISM ASSOCIATION
41ST ANNUAL GENERAL MEETING
WEDNESDAY 1ST DECEMBER 2004
AT THE ROYAL SAINT LUCIAN HOTEL
Mr. President I am pleased to once again be invited to speak at the St. Lucia Hotel & Tourism Association’s Annual General Meeting, as it provides me with the opportunity to discuss with your membership our vital tourism industry. Upon reflection of this year, I am heartened by the progress made in our industry. Both the destination and individual hotels and hoteliers have won world renowned awards as testimony to their efforts and dedication to the tourism cause. I wish to congratulate all winners, on behalf of the Government and people of St. Lucia
Mr President, the theme for your 41st Annual General Meeting is timely. The competition in the tourism industry has never been so intense. Only yesterday I read in the travel newsletter and Turbo News “adventurous tourists are returning to ………..exotic landscape of Afghanistan and the President of the Afghan Tourist Organization was hoping that “tourists will come ……… because it’s really important to us for economic revival”. I make this point to illustrate that even countries ravaged by war are still seeking to be part of the tourism industry.
How then can St. Lucia fulfill its potential? To my mind, Mr President, St. Lucia is well poised to reap the benefits of a well planned tourism industry. We have seen last year record numbers of visitors to our shores and an increase in the direct income from tourism reflected in our national income statistics. However, we must not be complacent and government, the tourism, private sector and the public at large must strive for continuous improvement in the services that we offer to our visitors. The realization that tourism is the lead sector must be the mantra of all decision makers and those who seek to influence public opinion. Only the fool hardy will recommend total dependence on tourism but the reality is that other productive sectors must seek to produce goods and services for use by the tourism sector and for export.
The industry has demonstrated its resilience to both human and natural shocks and recent events have shown that the notion of tourism as a fickle industry must be re-examined and put in the proper context.
While we contemplate on the existing prospects for our industry, including the possibilities of the World Cup in 2007, we must re-commit ourselves to the ideals of excellence and professionalism. It must be a total effort involving every interest group since the tourism industry is all-embracing and impacts on the lives of every citizen.
We have made progress with respect to airlift into Saint Lucia. After successful negotiations Delta Airlines began its service from Atlanta into Saint Lucia on 4th April 2004. This flight has been doing well I am pleased to announce that Delta has confirmed that they will be adding additional service between Atlanta and St. Lucia. Correspondence from Delta has informed that effective 1st April, 2005, Delta will operate one round trip flight on Friday, Saturday, Sunday, Monday and Tuesday, an increase of 3 days per week. The additional service has been loaded into the CRS system and was available for sale from 30th November, 2004.
On 1st November we welcomed American Airlines back to Saint Lucia with direct non-stop service out of Miami International. This service now adds 142 seats from the USA market into Saint Lucia daily.
This year we initiated dialogue with Continental Airlines as well, and we intend to continue to keep those lines of communication open.
The airlift success was not only in the USA market, as our negotiations in the UK market also paid off this year. The new weekly Thomson charter out of Manchester started in November for the winter 2004-2005 Season; while scheduled year round service out of Manchester on BMI will commence on 13th December 2004.
We are aware of the pressures under which airlines operate and I wish to thank all our airline partners for their continued support to St. Lucia.
Earlier this year I tabled in Parliament legislation called Cricket World Cup (Tourism Accommodation) Incentives Act, an act to encourage the development of the tourism accommodation sector to meet the anticipated increase in demand for accommodation during Cricket World Cup 2007.
The Act speaks to hotels of at least six rooms, villas resorts, condominiums and the reconstruction or renovation of existing buildings into a hotel villas resort. Applications for incentives under this Act must be made prior to December, 2005. Tax relief and exemptions include:
1. A percentage relief on stamp duty, vendor’s tax, property tax and aliens landholding license fees based on the total number of rooms in the world cup cricket accommodation product as follows:
a) 50 rooms and under - 50%
b) Over 50 rooms - 100%
The exemption from property tax shall be for the duration of the period of any income tax holiday granted, or for a maximum of fifteen years, which ever is the greatest.
2. An income tax holiday for a period based on the number of rooms in the world cup cricket accommodation product as follows:
a) 50 rooms and under - 15 years
b) Over 50 rooms - 20 years
3. A percentage tax credit for financial institutions based on the quantum of the investment as follows:
a) EC$1 million and under - 1%
b) Over EC$1 million and up to EC$5 million - 2%
c) Over EC$5 million and up to EC$10 million - 3%
d) Over EC$10 million - 4%
The tax credit shall be available to a financial institution only in respect of the tax year in which the investment was made.
4. Customs duty exemptions on imports to be determined by Cabinet and for a period to be determined by Cabinet.
Although these incentives have been passed in both houses and will soon be assented, we have already seen investment in many areas of our accommodation sector.
Coconut Bay – Major renovations and refurbishment for this Vieux Fort resort are in progress. The 254-room resort is expected to be opened in the first quarter next year. I will be visiting the property tomorrow.
Discovery at Marigot Bay - The Discovery at Marigot Bay project is progressing well. The 57 “five-star” apartments now under construction have been designed to convert to 124 hotel rooms and suites using special lock-off facilities.
The Discovery on Marigot Bay project also includes a new marina of some 60 fixed and floating berths and a new marina village on the site of the old Moorings buildings. The marina village will include a collection of small Caribbean-style buildings housing boutiques, chandlery, banking and postal services, a supermarket and laundry.
Coco Resorts - Having opened Coco Creole Hotel in Rodney Bay in October, 2003, the Chastanet family has embarked on phase two of the Coco Resorts project. That new development consists of 72 rooms and 12 suites.
To further service the emerging meeting and conference market, a 4,500 square feet conference facility will be included when the complex opens early in 2005.
Plantation Beach Resort - Construction of the 74-villa resort at Cas-en-bas is also progressing. The Ministry of Tourism has been advised that this project is scheduled for completion in 2005, and will be managed by Sunswept Resorts.
Anse Chastanet Resort – The new villas at Anse Chastanet Resort’s villa expansion project are expected to be available shortly.
Rainbow – Extensive renovation and re-modeling is taking place at the Rainbow Hotel and the new “village” concept is imposing and luxurious.
Beaches Resort – Hon. Gordon “Butch” Stewart has shown tremendous confidence in Saint Lucia and announced construction of its new family-branded Beaches Resort is planned for Pigeon Island Causeway during the first half of 2005. Major upgrades in services at other properties in St. Lucia were announced at the World Travel Market last month.
I am told that several investors and current hoteliers are planning expansion, renovation or new developments. These include the Landing on Rodney Bay, Praslin Bay Resort, Sun Sea Resorts (Anse La Verdue) at Le Sport, Windjammer and Bay Gardens. Further, there are several other condominium complex’s under construction or at an advanced stage of planning.
Our Industry cannot be said to be developing fully if any one sector is left behind. The small hotel sector remains a priority to the Ministry of Tourism. This year, through the OAS funded Small Tourism Enterprise Programme a Skills for Success Certification Programme was held for small hotels. Fifteen participants have been awarded the certificate of Front Desk Representatives.
We believe that training and re-education must be a priority and under STEP this year, we completed phase II of local cuisine restaurant sector development project with instructional and practical sessions. The training includes menu planning, use of local ingredients, and food preparation and presentation.
In November last year the St. Lucia Tourist Board launched a new dedicated website for small properties branded “Intimates Saint Lucia”. To date there are some 73 small properties featured on the website under the four categories of specialized small hotels; full service small hotels; guesthouses and bed & breakfast; and vacation apartments/villas. The feedback has been positive and the statistics show that for January to November 2004 the website has received 536,864, and 43.817 referrals. (Note: Referrals are the number of email or website enquiries sent to partners listed on Intimate from Visitors to www.inntimatestlucia.org.) Statistics from the St. Lucia Tourist Board indicate 66% occupancy for small hotels as compared to 56.2% in 2003 for the months January to August.
The Government of Saint Lucia continues, within its resources, to provide funds for destination marketing. Over the last five years Government has increased the budget allocation for the Saint Lucia Tourist Board. In this competitive environment and the ever increasing needs of airlift, promotions and niche marketing efforts, the St. Lucia Tourist Board must be efficient and creative in its marketing efforts. In this regard, the joint marketing committee comprising of private sector partners, will be an important body within the St. Lucia Tourist Board. The administrative cost of the St. Lucia Tourist Board for 2003 was 23% of the Board’s total budget allocation over the last year.
I have also asked the St. Lucia Tourist Board to enforce a contract policy to further enhance transparency in the affairs of the Board.
The St. Lucia Tourist Board Act will be revisited and an act that is more relevant to modern times will soon be tabled in Cabinet and hopefully will be transmitted to Parliament for enactment into law after being passed.
In fact the St. Lucia Tourist Board’s achievements have been recognised by Virgin Holidays and the silver award for “Best Tourist Board Partner” in the Caribbean was won this year.
The St. Lucia Tourist Board is working with airlines and affiliate tour operators on promotions aimed at making the new airlift viable. The “Great Deal in Paradise” promotion to the North American market, began this summer and was sold through all the major tour operators. For the five-month period from July to November 2004 bookings far exceeded the projections. I want to thank the hoteliers and other partners for their support in this promotion.
New Advertising Campaign
A decision was taken in June to embark on a new Consumer Advertising Campaign for St. Lucia with the objective of providing increased visibility and awareness for the US and UK markets with new creatives and other advertising material.
In today’s competitive marketplace, product differentiation is the key to the success in destination advertising. The process used was as follows. The St. Lucia Tourist Board provided several Advertising Agencies with a creative brief. These Advertising Agencies were required to make a presentation to a sub-committee of the Board of Directors and subsequently the three best presentations were re-presented to the Marketing Committee of the Board.
The Backroom Agency was chosen for their comprehensive integrated advertising campaign that provides novel creative depiction of Saint Lucia as “an island that stands out from the rest.”
The Backroom Agency has already completed its on-island scouting for sites and filming and photography for the new creatives will begin from 5th to 11th December 2004 in St. Lucia.
The advertising campaign is scheduled to be launched in January 2005 starting in Philadelphia and then later in Atlanta. It will take the form of newspaper advertising, newspaper inserts, Cable TV advertising to geo-targeted audiences, radio advertising and promotions, website advertising and trade magazine advertising.
While we embark on a new approach in destination marketing, we must pay similar attention to the product that we offer our visitors.
Saint Lucia must not allow our service standards to fall. We must immediately address any signs of weakness and hotels, both large and small, must ensure that our services in the back of the house are just as good as our front of the house service, so that we can maintain the global standards demanded by tour operators and individual clients.
In 2004 through the joint initiative with the Saint Lucia Bureau of Standards, the Ministry of Tourism produced national standards for the accommodation sector and Food & Beverage Establishments. Whilst these standards are still voluntary, the Ministry of Tourism has been working closely with tourism businesses, and in particular the smaller accommodation and restaurant establishments, to encourage them to meet these standards.
The other standards that viz Water based standards, Ground Transportation and Sites and Attractions, are being discussed by a Technical Committee with a view to implementation next year.
More recently however, the Saint Lucia Bureau of Standards has informed the Ministry of Tourism of an international initiative on standards development for tourism services. Spain is leading the charge and there are several international tourism organizations involved in the initiative, including the World Tourism Organization and the International Union of Official Travel Organizations. There are several other areas proposed including various categories of accommodation, restaurants, Beaches, natural protected areas, travel agents, transport and sustainable tourism. Saint Lucia stands to benefit tremendously from active participation in this initiative and our participation in process is under close consideration.
Tourism Sector Strategy
A national tourism plan was approved by Cabinet this year, paving the way for a Tourism Sector Strategy Project funded by the European Union. It will commence in early January. Emerging Market Group (EMG) Limited, former Deloitte & Touche UK, has been selected to carry out the consultancy, and the Ministry of Tourism is in the process of finalizing the contract along with the National Authorizing Office in Saint Lucia.
The overall objective of the consultancy will be to prepare a comprehensive strategy and action plan, which will help to improve holistically the quality of Saint Lucia’s tourism product and industry. The consultants will be expected to review policy, legal and institutional issues; undertake an analysis of the existing economic structure of the tourism sector in Saint Lucia, and analyze and make recommendations on human resource development as its relates to the tourism industry. The result will be an action-oriented road map for the development of Saint Lucia’s tourism industry, which the Ministry of Tourism will implement in the Government’s new fiscal year.
Yachting Development Plan
In the diversification of the tourism product, the Ministry of Tourism has taken a keen interest in the development of the yachting sector. The first ARC boat is expected in anytime now and this event continues to be a boost to the yachting sector. We are proud to be the host country for that event.
The Ministry of Tourism recognizes the potential of the yachting sector and next week we will witness the official signing ceremony for an OPSR funded Yachting Development Plan. Local consultants ACME Consulting has teamed up with Thomas J. Murray & Associates Inc (Florida) to undertake this study. A major component of this project is the review of legislation and capacity building for the private sector to ensure that its full potential is explored.
It is necessary in the dynamic tourism industry to be in constant review, planning and strategizing since new areas of completion and opportunity always present themselves. These consultancies will expose and introduce new approaches for the future.
The reality is that the cruise industry is with us to stay, and Saint Lucia must find ways of maximizing the benefits of the cruise sector. The St. Lucia Air & Sea Ports Authority continues to improve on port facilities and enhancements, and the Ministry of Tourism works on ensuring that our ancillary services are delivering the services demanded by the cruise sector; in particular taxi services. I would like to challenge our partners to ensure that a Cruise conversion scheme and other such benefits become a reality. I am encouraged to see that today’s agenda includes a presentation on the Freestay Cruise Conversion programme.
Tourism is a holistic industry and in some ways impacts on all other sectors. As I speak, St. Lucia is embarking on the most intensive road construction and reconstruction programmes in our recent history. Several major road projects are nearing completion and I want to thank our partners, particularly in Soufriere for their patience, for the inconvenience and discomfort suffered during construction.
I have been informed by the Ministry of Communications and Works that, weather permitting, all paving works will be completed this year. Access, clean-ups, road marking, railings and reconstruction of alternative routes damaged during construction, will be completed in the first quarter next year. Those of us who have traveled recently on that Soufriere to View Fort road, will note the tremendous improvement and the notable change. I am sure that our visitors will welcome the opportunity to commute in comfort to that beautiful part of St. Lucia.
The Castries to Vieux Fort highway is showing signs of wear. Complete reconstruction of 5.2 k.m., from Fond D’or to the Thomazo Bridge has already been contracted and work will begin shortly. Maintenance of the other sections has been outsourced through a maintenance contract for the next six months.
It is expected that these measures will enhance the road surface before a definitive re-construction plan is implemented after the 2005 budget.
Repairs are presently being done to the Castries to Gros Islet highway. Cabinet has approved a new modified design for that highway and pre-tender documents are being finalized with a view to starting by June, 2005. The new design will soon be discussed with the private sector prior to implementation.
The heritage tourism roads, financed by a loan from the French government, have commenced.
We expect that by this time next year, all major highways will be improved for the benefit of all.
Issues remain regarding the water supply, particularly to hotels in the north. WASCO has informed me that the 20 inch pipeline project should be completed when some faults detected near the airport area are resolved. This should drastically improve the reliability of the water supply in the north. It must be noted, however, that there will still be need for the expansion of the supply to cater for the increasing demand.
Mr. President, let me close by restating my commitment to the Tourism Industry and my appreciation for the contribution of hoteliers and investors to its growth and development. The confidence displayed in the future of St. Lucia by your investment is worthy of note by Government. The future of the industry depends on us. We must aim as a country at satisfying the needs of the six hundred thousand visitors that grace our shores as tourists. This national effort must start from the arrival, at points of entry to the reception on the streets of our island. There must be zero tolerance towards harassment and mediocrity. Many nations of the world have demonstrated that tourism can be the pillar on which other sectors of the economy grow and expand. It is left to us to create the linkages with the other sectors.
Our competition is truly global but negativity can only hurt us. Let us, with determination and effort, ensure that we truly fulfill Saint Lucia’s potential.
I thank you.
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