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Is the Tourism Dollar a Statistic? - May 9, 2005

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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 meant.

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.


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 unemployment.

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.


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 all benefit.

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.


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 markets;

4.An increase in average daily expenditure of cruise arrivals.


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!


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