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

The Star (St. Lucia) - Business Week - - FRONT PAGE - BY CATHER­INE MOR­RIS, STAR BUSINESSWEEK COR­RE­SPON­DENT

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.

OVER­COM­ING CHAL­LENGES

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.

WORK­ING TO­GETHER

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

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