War of Tourism Num­bers

The Star (St. Lucia) - - COMMENT - By Toni Ni­cholas

It was clearly a case of who could play the num­bers game bet­ter, who could present their case more fac­tu­ally and who was “cherry pick­ing” what, when the UWP can­di­date for Anse La Raye/Ca­naries and the Di­rec­tor of Tourism traded fig­ures and words this week. On Wed­nes­day March 16, the UWP’s Do­minic Fedee, who is con­sid­ered that party’s shadow min­is­ter for Tourism, pre­sented fig­ures at a press con­fer­ence to paint a pic­ture of the tourism in­dus­try’s poor per­for­mance. “While the Caribbean is en­joy­ing record-break­ing num­bers of in­creases of 7%, re­ports com­ing out from the ma­jor agen­cies around the Caribbean show­ing that the in­dus­try has ac­tu­ally done for the first time bet­ter than the rest of the world with a whop­ping 7% growth, we see that Saint Lu­cia is very far from where the Caribbean is ac­tu­ally po­si­tioned and we see Saint Lu­cia record­ing a 2% growth for 2015,” Fedee told re­porters. “This tells us that the desti­na­tion Saint Lu­cia is un­der­per­form­ing and this is of con­cern to the United Work­ers Party,” he went on.

Added to this, ac­cord­ing to Fedee, the is­land recorded a 2% de­cline in ar­rivals for Jan­uary 2016. “It is likely that this trend will con­tinue. So im­me­di­ate pol­icy de­ci­sions have to be taken so that we can cush­ion this down­ward spiral of the in­dus­try,” Fedee said.

Ac­cord­ing to the UWP can­di­date th­ese is­sues were raised last year when it was re­al­ized that the in­dus­try had been un­der­per­form­ing since June. “When we made the call a lot of peo­ple played pol­i­tics with the in­dus­try and buried their heads in the sand like os­triches and re­ally did not face the re­al­ity at the time or put puni­tive mea­sures in place so that the in­dus­try could re­bound,” he said.

Fedee also de­scribed as dis­ap­point­ing a press re­lease that came from the Saint Lu­cia Tourist Board ear­lier this week that sought, ac­cord­ing to him, “to paint a pic­ture of a sce­nario that re­ally did not ex­ist. The facts ac­cord­ing to him were that there was mod­er­ate growth in 2015, and this year Jan­uary when com­pared to 2015 showed a de­cline. The SLTB, Fedee said, chose to “cherry pick” where the in­dus­try had good per­for­mances but failed to give the over­all pic­ture. He in­di­cated that the re­lease had not in­cluded cruise fig­ures which he said based upon the UWP’s own re­search showed a de­cline for Jan­uary and that over­all for 2016 cruise ar­rivals would be down by as much as 56%.

On Thurs­day the Saint Lu­cia Tourist Board held its own press con­fer­ence to de­nounce some of the claims made by Fedee that the or­ga­ni­za­tion may be “cherry pick­ing” the data.

“I want to say from the out­set that this dis­cus­sion this morn­ing is a di­rect re­sponse to some of the state­ments made by Do­minic Fedee which in my mind were disin­gen­u­ous and mis­chievous with their in­tent,” Di­rec­tor of Tourism Louis Lewis started off by say­ing. “I think Mr. Fedee made some state­ments that ques­tion the in­tegrity of the Tourist Board and I want to say that it is not our busi­ness to be par­ti­san,” he said.

Ac­cord­ing to Lewis the cruise data re­flects 677,000 pas­sen­gers in 2015. The high­est num­ber over the last six years was in 2009 with 699,000 pas­sen­gers. The Di­rec­tor did ad­mit, how­ever, that the fore­cast of cruise ar­rivals for 2016 would de­cline. “Jan­uary and Fe­bru­ary 2015 we were at 204,000 pas­sen­gers and now we are at 175,000 for that same pe­riod this year,” Lewis stated ac­cord­ing to fig­ures just com­ing to hand. Over­all the is­land will wel­come less cruise ship pas­sen­gers for 2016 with at least two cruise lin­ers, in­clud­ing Nor­we­gian, less­en­ing their num­ber of port calls.

“We ac­tu­ally did pub­lish the data for up to Jan­uary, but be­cause the cruise in­for­ma­tion was not avail­able at the time we sent out data with­out in­for­ma­tion not be­cause we wanted to hide any data,” the Di­rec­tor pointed out. “But we are in­deed down for Jan­uary and Fe­bru­ary but that is not a fact that we in­tend to hide; we are very open with the dis­sem­i­na­tion of in­for­ma­tion,” he em­pha­sized.

On the ques­tion of the is­land un­der­per­form­ing, the tourism di­rec­tor said that while Saint Lu­cia showed a mod­est growth of 2% in 2015 com­pared to the Caribbean over­all av­er­age of 7%, those num­bers were pushed up be­cause four des­ti­na­tions, in­clud­ing Cuba and Haiti, had dou­ble digit growth. He at­trib­uted this to their in­crease in ho­tel stock while Saint Lu­cia lost 400 ho­tel rooms last year. But while the av­er­age night stay by vis­i­tors was down in 2015, Lewis said the av­er­age spend by vis­i­tors showed an in­crease in 2015.

So there you have it - who said what. And while we ponder on what was truth, tourism con­tin­ues to be Saint Lu­cia’s ma­jor rev­enue earner and the largest em­ploy of its cit­i­zens. The frag­ile and volatile in­dus­try can do less with the in­flu­ence of par­ti­san pol­i­tics and more with a bi­par­ti­san ap­proach to en­sure that it con­tin­ues to grow and flour­ish to re­dound to the ben­e­fit of all.

Louis Lewis (left) and Do­minic Fedee.

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