War of Tourism Numbers
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.