SLHTA PRESIDENT TAKES ON TOURISM CHALLENGES
President of the St Lucia Hotel and Tourism Association Karolin Troubetzkoy on building resilience, tourism trends and why Caribbean operators need to work together
Karolin Troubetzkoy may just be the busiest woman in tourism. A veteran of the industry for over 30 years, the St Lucia Hotel and Tourism Association (SLHTA) President has collected an impressive amount of accolades and job titles during her career, and shows no signs of slowing down. In addition to her day job as Executive Director of Marketing and Operations at Anse Chastanet and Jade Mountain resorts, Troubetzkoy frequently attends conferences, speaks at events and hosts stakeholder meetings – all in an effort to continue her lifelong work of promoting and supporting both the local and regional tourism sectors.
LEADING THE SLHTA
In July this year Troubetzkoy took up the reins of the SLHTA, for the second time.
Her first tenure ran from 2010 to 2016 and highlights included overseeing the development of the SLHTA’s social media platforms and web presence as well as launching the Tourism Enhancement Fund (TEF) which collects a voluntary contribution from tourists and funnels it into community development. In its five years of operation, the TEF has raised more than EC$7.5 million and supported more than 120 projects. These range from helping small tourism operators market their businesses more effectively to reducing youth unemployment through human resource development and helping single parents who work in tourism.
Her first presidency may be a tough act to follow but Troubetzkoy has even bigger goals for her second term at the head of the SLHTA, starting with energising its members. The organisation is currently revamping its communications strategy and mobilising standing committees to encourage discussion and engagement on topics such as culinary excellence, health and wellness, destination marketing, sustainability and youth development. The latter is particularly important, given the potential of Saint Lucia’s industry to provide long-term employment for the next generation. The country’s tourism sector directly employs more than 14,000 people and indirectly impacts the livelihood of a further 34,000.
“Human capital development and ongoing skills training, operating more sustainably and efficiently, as well as building more awareness about the important contribution of our industry to the economy are all important areas for us to focus on,” says Troubetzkoy.
An important area is sustainability, ensuring that tourism can grow at a pace that doesn’t negatively impact the environment. Troubetzkoy says this is very much on the agenda for the SLHTA and adds:
“We would like to see a breakthrough in plastics reduction, better water and waste management and integration of more renewables into the grid.”
In the next few months the SLHTA intends to brief members on certification programmes so they can gain formal sustainability credentials and educate themselves on how to better incorporate environmental principles into their operations.
Over the course of her three-decade career, Troubetzkoy has had a front row seat as the Caribbean’s tourism product has waxed and waned. “The region has come a long way since the 80s, providing greater customer service and culinary experiences [but] this does not mean there isn’t a lot left to do,” she says.
The Caribbean has been steadily losing its share of the worldwide tourism market in recent years, falling behind the average global growth rate of 6.7 per cent. In 2017, the region grabbed just 2.3 per cent of the global market. Troubetzkoy says the decline is due to a number of factors including a perceived lack of value. “Visitors that compare a Caribbean vacation with a vacation elsewhere on the globe often rate the value lower. They consider our rates too high for what is offered when compared globally.”
There is still interest in the time-honoured sun, sand and sea product, however, and big name hotel brands such as the Ritz-Carlton and the Four Seasons continue to look to Caribbean islands. While this has brought substantial investment, it also runs the risk of crowding out smaller operators who do not have access to the same resources. The SLHTA is working closely with these smaller-scale operators to help them compete. Troubetzkoy says: “Pricing a hotel room and making your product competitive is very different if you have thousands of rooms in your portfolio instead of only a handful. This has placed some considerable burden on small hotel operators who have challenges attracting visitors because their offering is not visible enough and their rates may be uncompetitive.”
And then there’s the shared economy. The rise of more cost-effective options, such as Airbnb, for frugal travellers is also making its mark on the tourism landscape. “This has changed the industry dramatically and we still need to work out how to create a fair playing field for all.”
In terms of local challenges, Troubetzkoy notes that hotels in Reduit, Marigot and Soufriere are concerned about the “high, dangerous and uncontrolled influx of day leisure boats” leading to overcrowding of bays and beaches in those areas. She also highlights unlicensed boat operators, unwanted solicitation on beaches and safety concerns for swimmers as potential problems.
It may be a bumpy road ahead as the sector navigates its challenges but Troubetzkoy retains her faith in the core values at the heart of Saint Lucia’s industry, saying:
“We are blessed to live and work in one of the Caribbean’s, if not the world’s, most spectacularly scenic settings. Add to this our beautiful and welcoming people and a dedicated set of professional operators who understand the importance of maintaining high standards and you have a great foundation on which to build as we further define what makes Saint Lucia such a unique and desirable destination.”
While Saint Lucia may have escaped the devastation from hurricanes Irma and Maria, Troubetzkoy believes the storms should serve as a valuable lesson. “It has become clear that as an industry, and as an island, we must focus our attention on how to become more resilient. It also became more apparent than ever that the world at large does not yet understand and appreciate the great diversity of our tourism product in the Caribbean region.”
A past president of the Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association, Troubetzkoy is always aware of the regional context and sees the work ahead as a shared endeavour. “From the moment I came to Saint Lucia in the early 80s, my interest has always been how I could contribute to the wider industry, both locally and regionally.
“I am proud to be working with other stakeholders across the region to strengthen the education of Caribbean nationals about the importance of sustainable tourism development, as well as to advance efforts not only to promote the Caribbean as a single destination, but also to engender a spirit of togetherness so we are reminded that, when one nation is negatively impacted, it is our shared responsibility to look after one another.”
Troubetzkoy recognizes that marketing Saint Lucia in the international marketplace is only half the battle. Distinguishing the Caribbean region as an epicentre for cultural and geographic diversity, while marketing it as a collection of diverse destinations, will strengthen the region’s appeal and make its tourism product more competitive