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A SALUTE to Our Hotel Workers - November 29, 2004

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A SALUTE to Our Hotel Workers

Hello once again, St. Lucia, Today is the last Monday of November and we are drawing closer to the festive season.


In the last month, Saint Lucia’s Tourism Industry received two prestigious awards. First, there was the Five Star Diamond Award for Excellence from the American Academy of Hospitality Sciences. This was followed by the Crystal Palm Award for Excellence to the Government and people of Saint Lucia. The thirty-six member countries of the Caribbean Hotel Association voted Saint Lucia as the Caribbean Government with the most favourable policies and attitudes to investment in tourism.
None of these awards would have been possible without our hotel owners, hotel administrators and most importantly, our hotel workers.

Of course, this is not the first time that St. Lucia has received an award. A year hardly goes by without St. Lucia being favourably mentioned or some St. Lucian hotel being voted “The Best” in one category or other. Sandals continue to lead the way among the large hotels, but our small hotels are also holding their own, whether it is Bay Gardens in the north or Anse Chastanet and Ladera on the west coast. Our hotels and their employees continue to win awards for Saint Lucia.

So, in recognition of these successes I have decided to dedicate today’s Conversation to our hotel workers. Without them, our hotel industry would not be where it is today. They deserve our recognition for managing our industry with sensitivity, warmth and yes, pride and dignity.

Some in our midst are contemptuous of our hotel workers, declaring their jobs as servile and demeaning. They even say that this Government wishes to create a nation of waiters.

Ironically, many waiters earn higher incomes than their critics. Some of whom incidentally, live off, directly or indirectly, on the income created by the tourism industry.


As I speak of our hotel workers, I am also thinking of the other pillars of our tourism industry: the taxi drivers, the vendors, the workers at the duty free shops, the water sport and sport fishing staff, restaurant staff, airline staff, airport personnel, port security guards, and Customs and Immigration, officials. They too are important, but our hotel workers, more than any other determine whether the visitors return, or whether they move on to another destination.


Unquestionably, we continue to be a favourite tourism destination. This is borne out by our increased arrivals by sea and air with each passing year. Our cruise tourism figures continue to grow, as do our arrivals by air. American Airlines is back with us. British Midlands undertakes its inaugural flight in December. Existing airlines are putting on more flights and adding routes.
Some local tour operators are reporting over 100% increase in business so far for this season.

New hotels are springing up and existing ones are expanding. The Sandals Group as already announced, the first of the Beaches chain in Saint Lucia. Discovery at Marigot Bay is under construction and will bring new life to Marigot. The Harbour at Rodney Bay is now finally cleared for construction and will add a new dimension to Rodney Bay. Calabash at Marisule, is also nearing completion. Soon, Plantation Beach on the Cas-En-Bas beach will open its doors for business.

But that is not all. Existing hotels that are expanding include Bay Gardens, which also operates Bay Gardens Inn. Coco Creole, is working night and day to complete its almost 200 additional rooms. The former Rainbow Hotel, has re-entered the market as “The Village”. Renovations are to start at the Rex St. Lucian sometime next year. The former Club Med in Vieux Fort re-opens in mid January under its new name “Coconut Bay”. Some three hundred Saint Lucians will be employed there. Other good news about that property will soon follow.

In effect, some 700 additional rooms will be in the market in the next six months. All of that would not have been possible without investors. Every investment is a tangible expression of confidence in our industry and our economy.

But none of these successes I have spoken of, be they through awards or accolades, would have been possible without the contribution of the workers at our hotels. They are truly our frontline ambassadors in this industry.


I have said before that as far as I am concerned, the hotel workers of this country are more important than politicians because they can make or break the industry. Their handling of visitors will determine if they convey favourable impressions of our island, people and the product we offer. Time and time again, visitors tell me that what impresses them the most about our St. Lucia is our people – their warmth, generosity and sensitivity.

I remember, as you do, the criticisms I have faced – and still do – for taking steps to provide jobs for hotel workers or to ensure that hotel workers keep their jobs in the face of difficulties facing their employers. In this regard, I remember the workers of the Rex chain, whose jobs we successfully secured by taking steps to assist the employers to keep their doors open. And of course, there are the continuing efforts to paint as a crime the Government’s decision to ensure that six hundred St. Lucians are working at Sandals Grande, now the flagship of the chain in St. Lucia. I am proud of Sandals Grande. Whatever St. Lucia may have lost, the investment will be repaid handsomely, in a matter of years.

As I have said before, my overriding interest is to provide jobs and put food on the table for our hotel and tourism employees. The Government that I lead will always put jobs first.


Our hotel workers apart, we must ensure that, as a nation we continue to do what we have to do to build and improve on our tourism product. The competition is fierce. I was reminded by the Tourism Minister the other day, that some countries in the Middle East are using their “oil money” to build islands – yes, to build islands – in order to attract visitors who want the island experience that we offer.

It is for this reason that we must take every opportunity to promote our tourism industry by ensuring that each worker in every establishment in the hospitality industry sees himself or herself as a tourism ambassador. The nature of the product may change, but service remains the name of the game.

Take the Atlantic Rally for Cruisers – the ARC Race, as we know it. After more than a dozen years of being the final destination for this grueling but challenging and adventurous worldwide event that now attracts over 200 yachts and crew, we have to ensure that we keep the race and that it grows from strength to strength. Other countries want the ARC, and badly.

We must acknowledge the efforts of the Rodney Bay Marina, especially Cuthbert Didier, in ensuring that the “yachties” are welcomed, properly accommodated and given the best time they can have, each time around. But there’s more that we can do.
Families fly to St. Lucia to meet crew members who have braved the seas. They live on their boats, but they spend to eat and to stay with us. We must treat them just as we do the cruise visitors or the hotel guests. They too, are important to the industry.


Yet, even while we acknowledge and salute the contribution of our hotel employees, their biggest challenge is still yet to come. They will undoubtedly be challenged to ensure they continue to deliver the award-winning service they have made St. Lucia famous for. But their biggest challenge will come with the Cricket World Cup in 2007, when they have to host the thousands of cricket fans over 51 days.

This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for us to shine at our best, with the eyes of eight billion cricket spectators around the world fixed on us.

The Government has offered incentives aimed at ensuring we provide additional rooms in time for Cricket World Cup.
New hotels are under way, which will mean more work for thousands of St. Lucians between now and the Cricket World Cup. All will have an opportunity to be the best hosts we can for the best Cricket World Cup ever. Additional hotels and Guest Houses will go up, but there will also be opportunities for ordinary household families to engage in provision of Bed & Breakfast accommodation, providing it is within the standard required and expected.

We have to go for it. I know we can. From what we have seen these past seven years, I know we can excel. We have proven it more than once before and we can continue to do it between now and Cricket World Cup, 2007. All we have to do is to continue to do what we are doing – and do it even better.

So, I close as I began, with praise for our hotel workers and their allies in the tourism and hospitality industry. Without them we could not have been here; and without them, we will not be able to get to where we are heading. Respect due to our hotel workers.

Till next Monday, be of good cheer and may our Lord protect you.


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