ADDRESS BY TOURISM MINISTER
HON. MENISSA RAMBALLY
Meeting of St. Lucia Cruise Industry Stakeholders and Officials from the Florida Caribbean Cruise Association (FCCA)
at Sandals St. Lucia Golf Resort & Spa
June 28, 2001
On behalf of all St. Lucia I extend warm greetings to visiting associates from the Florida Caribbean Cruise Association.
I use the term ‘associates’ , because it correctly implies the elements of partnership, cooperation, confidence and mutual trust and respect that have characterized St. Lucia’s relationship with the FCCA over the past four years.
In many respects, therefore, today’s meeting can be likened to that of a meeting of the board of directors of a very successful enterprise.
The enterprise, in this instance, is the cruise industry of St. Lucia, and the board of directors are the stakeholders here assembled, comprising resident and overseas based individuals, all committed to safeguarding the gains that have been made and maximizing the potential that exists for this all important sector.
This, I am persuaded, is not an occasion for hard sell-marketing, because we are all convinced of the importance of this sector and have been beneficiaries of the phenomenal growth that has taken place in cruise tourism in recent years.
Therefore, as directors with a vested interest in the success and continued growth of this sector, I urge that we use this occasion to iron out recurring impediments to the smooth running of the sector and safeguard against unnecessary perils.
You would note Ladies and Gentlemen, that I have repeatedly used the terms "we" and "our", because that is precisely how we must perceive our relationship if we are to move this sector to the next level. We are partners in an enterprise with seemingly limitless possibilities for growth. The challenge is for us to work together, recognizing and respecting each other’s particular and peculiar interests.
For example, there is the lingering perception of cruise tourism not contributing immensely to the sustainable development of our region in general and our island in particular. The facts, I am persuaded, reveal the complete opposite. Nevertheless, the existence of this commonly held view, highlights the need for a heightened public awareness programme showcasing the net contribution of cruise tourism to the socio-economic development of our country.
In this regard, social partners such as the FCCA, SLASPA and other high profile interests, need, I believe, to be seen to be giving back more to the island.
Consideration should be given at this meeting to identifying and contributing significantly to major national causes that help to create an enabling environment for the sector. The whole question of disaster preparedness and mitigation is one area that comes immediately to mind.
Then there is the perennial perceived jealousies that exist between stakeholders in the cruise and land base tourism sectors. Most of you here assembled have the enviable fortune of being involved in but one sector, which is Cruise. However, there are persons like myself who must, of necessity, pursue the interest of all sectors.
We must work steadfastly at coming up with a formula for maximizing the twin potential of converting cruise passengers into long-stay visitors and vice-versa.
St. Lucia’s social and economic development is dependent upon our recording consistent rates of growth in both cruise and land-based tourism.
To this end, the challenge is hereby made for us to use the occasion of this meeting to identify realistic proposals for translating years of vocal support and well-wishes, one sector for the other, into practical initiatives that will bear fruit and bring benefits to all concerned.
Ladies and Gentlemen, the current growth pattern in cruise ship and passenger arrivals is heartening, indeed overwhelming, particularly at a period when land based tourism in the Eastern Caribbean is experiencing noticeable declines.
I recall Ms. Michelle Paige saying to the region not so long ago, that the problem in subsequent years would not be a lack of arrivals, as the FCCA had undertaken to so market this region and expand the capacity of passenger vessels as to ensure virtual year round activity at our ports of entry.
Those of us, who took the FCCA at its word and upgraded facilities, have had no reason for regret.
I do not think I would be found guilty of boasting if I said here that when it comes to readying oneself for the opportunities that cruise tourism offer, St. Lucia, in the context of the Caribbean, has been a distinct leader.
However, we cannot become complacent. We have an opportunity today to review our product and determine what changes and improvements are necessary to not only stay ahead of the competition, but also attend to and meet the needs of a discerning traveling public.
In response to the challenges thrown out by the FCCA over the years, St. Lucia has remained focused, putting in place the physical infrastructure required and the diversity of onshore activity necessary to ensure the safety and comfort of visitors.
At the same time, we have implemented policies to maximise opportunities and benefits to stakeholders such as taxi-drivers, ground-handlers, tour guides, activities/sites operators, gift/souvenir shops, craft vendors etc.
With specific reference to the provision of shore-side excursions, it is evident that the town of Soufriere is approaching the limits of its carrying capacity, requiring the identification, development, packaging and selling of a wide variety of new tour products in other parts of the island.
Over the past three (3) years, through the introduction of the St. Lucia Heritage Tourism Programme (SLHTP), we have sought to respond to the challenge of an over concentration of visitors in one area.
Today cruise visitors have, not only a wide dispersal of geographical areas, but also a multiplicity of tour activities to choose from.
With respect to harassment, though the situation in Port Castries and the other tourist centres is not perfect, we are moving to great lengths, involving the expenditure of scarce monetary resources, in putting in place measures to ensure a safe, hassle-free experience by cruise and indeed all visitors to our shores.
In this regard, a substantial portion of the National Conservation Authority’s budgetary allocation is spent on the employment and operation of the Rangers and Hostess programme.
As a result of these measures, we are pleased to note that incidents of visitor harassment have been on the decline, particularly in the last year.
The Ministry of Tourism is instituting a destination-wide system of minimum standards for the tours and activities sector. This initiative targets all relevant sectors, such as training, capacity building and certification for vendors and taxi drivers.
It also involves imposition of Environmental Management Systems (EMS) for sites and attractions, to ensure on-site compliance with visitor safety and environmental quality, and, National training and certification of tour guides.
The St. Lucia Air & Seaports Authority (SLASPA) has expended an estimated $50 million in expanding port facilities for on-shore visitor activity, such as duty-free shopping, as well as berthing infrastructure to accommodate the new generation mega ships. For example, the extension to La Place Carenage is expected to include a state of the art walk-in animated interpretation centre on the history of Castries. Thus adding to the diversity of offering and a ‘must-see’ attraction for cruise passengers.
Noting the potential of expanded tour activity to rural communities, and the popularity of West Coast tours, we are in the process of refurbishing the facility at Anse La Raye and constructing three new jetties in the coastal villages of Laborie, Canaries and Choiseul.
In all cases the feasibility study have been completed, and upon construction these facilities should serve to open up even more tour opportunities, ensuring benefits to local entrepreneurs, rural communities and the St. Lucian economy.
Fellow stakeholders, multi-sectoral collaboration is absolutely necessary if we are to add further value, maximise passenger satisfaction and increase shore side expenditures.
To this end, this meeting is most welcomed as it provides an opportunity for the sharing of information and experiences and the adumbration of new ideas, all geared at the continuous improvement of our product.
Ladies and Gentlemen, it is against this backdrop and with a feeling of great expectation, that I again welcome all here assembled, especially our visiting associates from the Florida Caribbean Cruise Association.
I look forward to a wholesome exchange of views on how we can accelerate our quest to make St. Lucia a sustainable, world-class cruise destination.
I thank you.
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