The Star (St. Lucia) - - COMMENT - By Faye-Chantelle Mon­de­sir

There’s more to Mer­cury Beach than barely-there biki­nis, lux­ury yachts, beck­on­ing booties and sybarites from most of our sis­ter ter­ri­to­ries, the ma­jor­ity from Mar­tinique. Far more im­por­tant are the eco­nomic ben­e­fits, to say noth­ing of op­por­tu­ni­ties to es­tab­lish links use­ful to all the peo­ple of our re­gion. So pro­moter and mar­itime con­sul­tant at the tourism min­istry, Cuth­bert Di­dier, re­minded me fol­low­ing last week’s Fri­day-to-Mon­day beach bac­cha­nal.

Di­dier was quick to point out that suc­cess is never au­to­matic. It takes plan­ning, imag­i­na­tion and a de­ter­mi­na­tion not to con­cen­trate on mat­ters that would frus­trate other souls not nearly as tough as Mer­cury Beach’s lo­cal pro­moter. “It takes a lot of prepara­tory work to make po­ten­tially chaotic things run like Dis­ney­land or,” he chuck­led, “like WaterWorld.”

“In 2014,” he re­called, “Gilles Wan Ajouhu from Mar­tinique, one of the pro­mot­ers of the orig­i­nal Mer­cury Beach, came here on a visit. At the time they were hav­ing prob­lems with the author­i­ties at home.” Hav­ing scouted var­i­ous al­ter­na­tive lo­ca­tions here, Gilles en­gaged Di­dier in long dis­cus­sions that ended with the marine con­sul­tant ac­knowl­edg­ing the idea of stag­ing the event here made sense.

“If you re­call the first event in 2014,” Di­dier said dur­ing our in­ter­view, “it was mas­sive! It was held at Pi­geon Is­land Park. Un­for­tu­nately the Tourist Board had al­ready set­tled its bud­get.” Things were dif­fer­ent the fol­low­ing year. “In 2015 we looked for a larger spot and here we are,” said a clearly sat­is­fied Di­dier. “The rest is his­tory!”

Mer­cury Beach has found a home at Pi­geon Is­land Beach, a favourite hang­out for lo­cal lovers of the out­doors. Not that there were no hur­dles to over­come. For a start there were those who imag­ined the event would pose an en­vi­ron­men­tal threat.

Said Di­dier, “Mar­tini­quans are very eco-friendly. Any­one who has pa­tron­ized the event will re­al­ize there are only three items which could’ve had an im­pact: foam, lit­ter­ing with cups and plas­tics, and dis­charge from boats. Dur­ing Mer­cury Beach, all these items are con­trolled.”

He added: “I would dare say that Mer­cury Beach sets the stan­dard for the man­age­ment of garbage at Saint Lu­cian events and I would like other lo­cal or­ga­niz­ers to take a hint from our method of deal­ing with waste and re­duc­ing any neg­a­tive im­pact to the sea and land.” He said peo­ple were as­signed to clean up im­me­di­ately fol­low­ing ev­ery event. Twenty wash­rooms were al­lo­cated a bat­tery of fo­cused at­ten­dants, and divers po­si­tioned to fa­cil­i­tate and ex­e­cute im­me­di­ate ocean bed clean-ups.” Di­dier, it turns out, is a con­firmed ad­vo­cate of the hands-on ap­proach to things.

We re­turned to the mat­ter of eco­nomic ben­e­fits from Mer­cury Beach. “The in­put was all lo­cal,” he said. “The board­ing was ply­wood from Saint Lu­cia. So were the labour, stage, sound sys­tem, stage cov­ers, plat­forms, dé­cor; all lo­cal! The in­put from na­tional ser­vice con­trac­tors too was strictly lo­cal, as were spon­sors and pur­chased prod­ucts, whether the Brew­ery or Peter and Com­pany.” He was proud to em­pha­size that though the con­cept was an im­ported prod­uct from Mar­tinique, the ac­tual ex­e­cu­tion was strictly Looshan.

We came to the ele­phant in the room: “Over the last two years the event was heav­ily stud­ded with lo­cal acts. This time around, the idea was to tar­get the French mar­ket. The fact is that we had just come out of car­ni­val, and I don’t mean to be crit­i­cal, I’m only be­ing very prac­ti­cal. The feed­back from the French pa­trons was a de­cid­ing fac­tor in choos­ing this year’s en­ter­tain­ment. We did have one lo­cal act, Ricky T, be­cause he had a par­tic­u­lar song that we knew would shake things up.”

Mer­cury Beach’s gate price in 2014 was EC$100. In 2015 it was $200. This year par­tic­i­pants forked out $260 daily or $490 for a 3-day pack­age deal. No sur­prise the event was plagued by two-legged would-be rats. Di­dier chuck­led at the image.

“It’s just a re­flec­tion of the free­ness mind­set,” he smiled. “A lot of these peo­ple were re­moved be­cause they didn’t have hand bands. We had a por­ous point be­cause of the in­di­vid­u­als as­signed to that par­tic­u­lar sta­tion. It’s some­thing to be ad­dressed.” He said not plac­ing sea bound­aries was a de­lib­er­ate de­ci­sion “to avoid any sug­ges­tion that our shores are be­ing cor­doned off for the use of for­eign­ers. Iron­i­cally enough, though only land bound­aries were placed, some in­di­vid­u­als in­sisted on hav­ing their own way any­how.

In his po­si­tion for the last six years as marine con­sul­tant for both Labour and UWP ad­min­is­tra­tions it has been Di­dier’s job to de­fine poli­cies and strate­gies to boost wa­ter­based tourism; pri­mar­ily the devel­op­ment of yacht­ing and wa­ter-based tourism ac­tiv­i­ties.

“One of the key things any yacht­ing des­ti­na­tion worth its salt must have is a strong wa­ter-based event,” said Di­dier. “An­tigua has Sail­ing Week, Fort Laud­erdale the In­ter­na­tional Boat Show. Saint Lu­cia has the At­lantic Rally for Cruis­ers but that is con­tained to the Rod­ney Bay Ma­rina.” He be­lieves this is­land is in need of events that marry yacht­ing with land-based tourism, and is op­ti­mistic that the vi­su­als of Mer­cury Beach will val­i­date this.

“My role is to go out there, col­lab­o­rate and re­po­si­tion the is­land in terms of in­creas­ing yacht­ing ar­rivals, get­ting peo­ple to visit, stay longer and spend. Right now I’m work­ing on other in­come gen­er­at­ing ini­tia­tives that I prom­ise will make Mer­cury Beach . . .” He paused, smiled, “that will turn Mer­cury Beach green with envy.”

Mean­while, con­grat­u­la­tions on his most re­cent ef­fort have been pour­ing in, in­clud­ing this from a French travel agent: “I want to thank you for the won­der­ful time Mar­tinique peo­ple spent in Saint Lu­cia, thanks to your en­ergy and your big work. You taught us a great les­son about cul­tural tourism. I know you were not ex­pect­ing this from me but when a job is well done, it should be ac­knowl­edged. Thank you, on be­half of my coun­try­men and my­self.”

Ev­i­dently a great time was had by all who at­tended the 3-day beach bash named af­ter Mer­cury.

Doubt­less Cuth­bert Di­dier and his spon­sors smiled all the way to the Trea­sury!

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