Why Saint Lu­cians Re­main Cyn­i­cal about Tourism

The Star (St. Lucia) - - LOCAL - By Keryn Nel­son

Saint Lu­cians ap­pear to have a real love-hate re­la­tion­ship with our tourism In­dus­try. No mat­ter how good their re­ports, some­thing about it just ruf­fles our feath­ers. Even I have tried to put my fin­ger on it, won­der­ing whether it is those an­noy­ing ex­pe­ri­ences at Re­duit Beach where I strug­gle to find space among, or far enough away from, wooden ca­banas and beach chairs des­ig­nated to only ho­tel guests, dot­ting the best spots on the beach. Or per­haps it is just that ev­ery pretty coast in Saint Lu­cia seems to share the fate of hav­ing a re­sort built on its shores. Ei­ther way, the fact that the best parts of our is­land get em­bel­lished for for­eign­ers' en­joy­ment, while lo­cals me­an­der through di­lap­i­dated roads and make do with re­sources all too mea­gre, is dis­heart­en­ing, to say the least. The re­al­ity is, how­ever, that re­ports of a thriv­ing tourism in­dus­try are among the few in­stances of ‘good news' we re­ceive reg­u­larly.

Take, for in­stance, three weeks ago when the Saint Lu­cia Tourism Au­thor­ity re­ported the fol­low­ing statis­tic: Saint Lu­cia is now the sec­ond fastest grow­ing tourism des­ti­na­tion in the Caribbean and has seen 9.2% growth in ar­rivals - cour­tesy of the Caribbean Tourism Or­ga­ni­za­tion. We should be proud, I guess. But as the in­for­ma­tion reached the pub­lic, many seemed more scep­ti­cal than ac­cept­ing. “Great self-serv­ing num­bers for the own­ers in the hos­pi­tal­ity sec­tor. That is all there is to all these num­bers,” one anony­mous com­menter on­line said. There are more than fifty re­sorts on-is­land, thus the ho­tel sec­tor alone al­lows for thou­sands of Saint Lu­cians to earn a liv­ing. Yet, so many of us grap­ple with the idea that we may still be get­ting the small­est piece of the pie. The ques­tion is, are we?

I spoke with a for­mer em­ployee of one of the most no­table ho­tels on is­land. Her time with the com­pany, where she be­gan as a wait­ress and worked her way up to be­com­ing a bar man­ager, spanned twenty-three years. On the ques­tion of whether dur­ing her time as a wait­ress and as a man­ager she per­son­ally ben­e­fit­ted dur­ing times of in­creased tourist ar­rivals, she re­sponded, “Yes, we had a ba­sic salary and we had a ser­vice charge. The ser­vice charge is the one that changes based on oc­cu­pancy. It fluc­tu­ates: if we don't have guests, it goes down; if we have guests, it stays up,” - her re­sponse shed­ding light on or­di­nary staffs' re­la­tion­ship with ris­ing and fall­ing ar­rival num­bers.

In­ter­est­ingly, on ac­count of whether she en­joyed the liveli­hood her suc­cess in the in­dus­try al­lowed, she said, “Yes, be­cause they don't just em­ploy you, they also give you train­ing and ed­u­cate you. There was a train­ing man­ager who gave dif­fer­ent cour­ses; at the end of the cour­ses you also got cer­tifi­cates so, even if you left there, you can still show the cer­tifi­cates some­where else."

The down­side, in her opin­ion, was that she spent a lot of time away from her fam­ily as she worked late hours, hol­i­days and on Sun­days.

For some in­sight into the lives of lo­cals who op­er­ate out­side the ho­tel in­dus­try but still within the tourism sec­tor, I spoke to a boat cap­tain who has con­ducted ex­cur­sions for “around 30 years”. He in­formed me that most of his cus­tomers are, in fact, tourists. How­ever, when asked whether dur­ing peak sea­sons he wit­nesses a surge in cus­tomers, the an­swer was “No”, and that he is “not sure where they get that in­for­ma­tion”. I also asked whether he is sat­is­fied with the liveli­hood his job has earned him, to which he an­swered, “No, I can't wait to leave that job.” Per­haps this is an in­di­ca­tion of the lim­ited reach of the tourist dol­lar out­side the ho­tel sec­tor?

While the ma­jor­ity of our ex­cur­sions and best na­tional sites are owned and op­er­ated by lo­cals, many de­pend on links with ho­tels and vil­las to reach guests. Prom­i­nent re­sorts like San­dals, for in­stance, have tour desks through which guests book tours. How­ever, not ev­ery ho­tel guest will be in­ter­ested in ex­cur­sions. Most ho­tels also have in-house restau­rants, spas, wa­ter sports and en­ter­tain­ment – even less rea­son to leave a re­sort.

Can we imag­ine a tourism in­dus­try where the tourist dol­lar reaches far be­yond luxury ho­tels? Tourism Min­is­ter, Hon. Do­minic Fedee has re-in­tro­duced the “Vil­lage Tourism” ini­tia­tive. With plans of pro­vid­ing mar­ket­ing guid­ance and train­ing to lo­cal Bed & Break­fast Inns and small site at­trac­tions own­ers, the claimed aim is to have more lo­cals ben­e­fit from tourism.

Would it not be great to see an evenly di­vided tourism mar­ket where lo­cally owned busi­nesses thrive? Sadly, it is hard to imag­ine, sim­ply be­cause of the scope and re­sources al­ready ac­quired by re­gional pow­er­houses like San­dals and in­ter­na­tion­ally famed Jade Moun­tain. Un­til it ac­tu­ally hap­pens though, many will likely con­tinue spew­ing the nar­ra­tive that Saint Lu­cians are re­ceiv­ing the shorter end of the stick.

Do Saint Lu­cians re­ally ben­e­fit from in­creased tourist ar­rivals?

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