Is the Tourism Dollar a Statistic?
Today, I want to shift my focus to Tourism. My choice of topic is inspired by a
comment made by Sir John Compton, Political Leader of the United Workers Party,
during a discussion on television on the recent Budget. He was accompanied by
Guy Myers and Zephrinus Francis. At some point in the discussion, Sir John
Compton declared that the Banana Industry earned real money, but the income from
tourism is a “statistic”. I leave it to Sir John to explain to hotel owners,
hotel workers, taxi drivers, boat operators and others just what he really
Only recently, the President of the National Taxi Union, Mr. Lucien Joseph,
better known as “Nobby”, told me that in a good month when the cruise ship
season is on and the hotels have guests, taxi drivers can earn between $6,000 to
$7,000 per month.
The fact is, as far back as 1991, tourism had started to earn more money for St.
Lucia than bananas. In 1991, the Banana Industry earned $69.72 million dollars
and tourism earned $97.75 million dollars. By 1997, the amount earned from the
Banana Industry declined to $52.14 million dollars while tourism climbed to
$142.05 million dollars.
Admittedly, there is one big difference between tourism and agriculture. With
the banana industry, income went directly to the rural sector. In the case of
tourism, the income goes directly to the urban sector so the impact is not
immediately felt, in the rural sector. Then too, leakages in the tourism sector
are high. But in the banana sector, there are fewer leakages because the
industry is largely owned by St. Lucians.
TOURISM OR AGRICULTURE?
Understandably, the successes of tourism have stirred a lively debate about the
relative merits of tourism and agriculture.
Some believe that the Government is overemphasing tourism at the expense of
agriculture. On the other hand, those in the tourism sector argue that the
country would have been better off if the Government had reallocated to the
tourism sector the money which has been invested in the banana industry.
As I said in my Budget Address, it is unhelpful if the issue is posed as if the
choice is either tourism or agriculture. It is not one or the other. The reality
is that St. Lucia requires both sectors, albeit in a symbiotic relationship,
each sector contributing to the other’s sustainability. Put differently, the
tourism sector requires a vibrant but diversified agricultural sector. The
agricultural sector needs a buoyant but responsive tourism sector. We need to
ensure that agriculture derives greater value added from the tourism sector. The
fact is that annually, we have over 500,000 tourists to feed and the
opportunities for agriculture are obvious.
The Government has had to encourage expansion in tourism in recent times because
that sector, in the face of the contraction in the banana sector, holds out the
greatest prospects for growth and development. If it is agreed that unemployment
is our greatest concern, then clearly, it is Government’s responsibility to turn
to the sector that has the greatest potential to help in the fight to reduce
What is necessary now, especially in the face of the contraction of the banana
industry, is to diversify agriculture as quickly and as efficiently we can. The
agricultural sector must not only look to overseas markets, but it must also
feed this nation and the rapidly expanding tourism sector.
NOT JUST AIRLINES OR HOTELS
The contribution of tourism to Saint Lucia’s economy must never be
underestimated. It is phenomenal. In 2004, the total earnings of the tourism
industry reached $879.3 million or if you prefer, 71 per cent of the exports of
goods and services.
There are many persons who benefit from tourism either directly or indirectly.
Tourism is not just about airlines and hotels. Our visitors have to be processed
by immigration and customs officers and transported by taxi drivers. Our
visitors have needs; they must eat and drink, so providing employment in
restaurants and bars; they want to be entertained, so local performers are
engaged; they want to purchase souvenirs, bringing income for both craftsmen and
retailers; they want to go sightseeing and participate in various activities,
hence tour guides, tour bus drivers, site operators and maintenance persons can
It is estimated that some 12,000 persons are employed in the tourism sector,
approximately 20% of the total employed labour force. These persons in turn
spend money and thus the multiplier effect is much greater. There are many
persons in Saint Lucia that earn their livelihood from tourism and may simply
not be aware of it. Do the owners, or for that matter the employees of retail
outlets, gas stations, telecommunications companies, hairdressers and other
services know whether the dollar that they are being paid with is a tourism
dollar? Behind every person who is employed at a hotel there is a family of four
or five persons to feed.
The past year, 2004 has been a great year for tourism. It was our best year for
tourism arrivals - 298,431 - surpassing the previous best in 2003. Stay over
arrivals increased by 7.8%, Bed-nights increased by 8%, Hotel occupancy
increased by 6%, visitor expenditure increased by 15.4%. Growth in arrivals in
St. Lucia surpassed growth in arrivals from major competitors. Cruise arrivals
increased by 22.4%, and yachting arrivals increased by 6.2%.
Each of the major markets achieved growth in 2004. Arrivals from the United
States increased by 9.2%, reaching a record 107,089; UK arrivals increased by
7.9%, and arrivals from the Caribbean increased by 5.2%.
We have noticed a change in the seasonal nature of our arrivals. The differences
in the level of stay over visitors between high and low season has been
disappearing. For eleven months, the monthly stay over arrivals were above
21,000. The peak travel months were April, July, August and May in that order.
These months are outside the traditional winter season.
For the first quarter of 2005, tourism performance continued to do well.
Recently released statistics from the St. Lucia Tourist Board show that January
to March 2005 has grown by 15.6%, over 2004, with the strong markets being our
traditional markets of the US, UK and the Caribbean.
AT TELLING STATISTIC
Visitor Expenditure grew by 15.4% in 2004 over the previous year. This accounted
for an increase in revenue of approximately EC$118 million. Some of the
contributing factors to this increase are as follows:
1.An increase in the actual number of stayover and cruise ship arrivals;
2.An increase in the overall length of stay of arrivals particularly those from
Canada, the US and the Caribbean;
3.An increase in the average daily expenditure of arrivals from all major source
4.An increase in average daily expenditure of cruise arrivals.
MAXIMIZING VISITORS EXPENDITURE
While we are certainly making progress, we must find ways of maximizing visitor
expenditure. We need to pay attention to our services and the products that we
are offering. Visitors will spend more in restaurants if the restaurants are
offering quality cuisine and superb service. Visitors will spend more in our
craft markets if there is a wide selection of unique Saint Lucian items to
purchase. Visitors will spend more money on tours and attractions if they
perceive the experience to be a worthwhile one. We must do all that we can to
meet the expectations of visitors in order to maximize the benefits of tourism
to our country.
Tourism will be with us for a very long time. In this economic cycle we must
maximize our benefits from it. But it is a sensitive industry so we have to take
care of it! All of us have that responsibility!
Until next week, Good Bless!