Tourism: The Way For­ward

The Star (St. Lucia) - - LOCAL - ---Peter Josie

Iended an ear­lier col­umn with these words: “This dis­cus­sion may also be a good way to start the New Year (2019), in­stead of wast­ing time with non­sen­si­cal mat­ters that have no bear­ing on jobs and so­cial ser­vices.” This was in ref­er­ence to my view that the peo­ple of Saint Lu­cia must pur­sue a cost/ben­e­fit anal­y­sis of the tourism in­dus­try cal­cu­lated over the past twenty years or so, as we ap­proach 40 years of in­de­pen­dence. The re­cent state­ment by some­one who ought to know, of­fer­ing rea­sons for the clo­sure of a fairly well-es­tab­lished ho­tel in the Re­duit Beach area of Gros Islet, prompted my re­ac­tion to the is­sue of con­ces­sions to the tourism in­dus­try, in­clud­ing tax hol­i­days and other im­por­tant govern­ment in­cen­tives.

I be­gin with the back story. As a young par­lia­men­tar­ian who had emerged from the pro­gres­sive group­ing of the early 1970s known as the St. Lu­cia Fo­rum, my views on tourism had been gleaned from sev­eral in-depth dis­cus­sions among the well­read and in­tel­li­gent mem­bers of the group. We be­lieved then, and I still hold the view to­day, that the lo­cal tourism in­dus­try should be struc­tured, pro­moted and sup­ported by the govern­ment of Saint Lu­cia so that ho­tel own­er­ship, ground trans­porta­tion, in­ter­na­tional ad­ver­tis­ing, food and drink sup­plies are owned and man­aged mainly by the peo­ple. In other words, our vi­sion was the con­struc­tion of a tourism in­dus­try wherein the peo­ple of Saint Lu­cia, from ev­ery strata of the so­ci­ety, would own a stake in the in­dus­try from top to bot­tom.

It is im­por­tant to re­call that the St. Lu­cia Fo­rum had also agreed there ought to be es­tab­lished at least two or three large in­ter­na­tional ho­tels on the is­land that would pro­mote Saint Lu­cia as an im­por­tant in­ter­na­tional player/ desti­na­tion, giv­ing it name recog­ni­tion, even as it laid em­pha­sis on lo­cal, mom-and- pop cot­tage tourism in­dus­try. With name recog­ni­tion, we be­lieved there would be in­creas­ing flows into the econ­omy from ev­ery as­pect of the in­dus­try, in­clud­ing food pro­duc­tion. Hav­ing made that de­ter­mi­na­tion, we were (and I am to­day) still con­vinced that the tourism in­dus­try must be mod­elled so that the Saint Lu­cia prod­uct is unique and sought af­ter. To his credit, Prime Min­is­ter John Comp­ton re­duced the room count to ten that qual­i­fied for govern­ment in­cen­tives. That num­ber was later re­duced to six rooms. To­day, Air BnB uses the room ser­vices of any per­son with a mid­dle class home and one avail­able room that meets its stan­dard for short-term let­ting/ rent­ing. It bears re­peat­ing that we must un­der­take a cleareyed, in-depth and pro­fes­sional cost/ben­e­fit anal­y­sis in the lo­cal tourism in­dus­try. This may be the best gift we give our­selves as we mark 40 years of in­de­pen­dence. The down­side of the Fo­rum cot­tage tourism idea to­day, is that with Air BnB the busi­ness or­gan­is­ers pocket the prof­its that should have gone to lo­cal house/room own­er­ship.

As we con­tinue to map the road ahead for the im­me­di­ate im­prove­ment of He­wanorra air­port, and the de­sign and con­struc­tion of a ma­jor four-lane high­way be­tween He­wanorra and Gros Islet (in­clud­ing to Soufriere and Cas­tries), it is as good a time as any to re­new our vi­sion of the en­tire tourism in­dus­try and the in­creas­ing role the peo­ple of Saint Lu­cia must play in this fast-grow­ing and im­por­tant in­dus­try. If we have learnt any­thing from the mis­takes of the past and from those of other de­vel­op­ing coun­tries, it is that we must con­stantly mon­i­tor and mea­sure the plans and pro­grammes to achieve our stated goals. As we look for­ward to 2019 and be­yond, we need to con­tinue en­gag­ing men and women of proven knowl­edge and ex­pe­ri­ence to shoul­der the work of build­ing a more solid eco­nomic and so­cial fu­ture. This may there­fore be the best time to re­view in as sim­ple and con­struc­tive a man­ner as pos­si­ble the in­ner work­ings of the tourism in­dus­try, and how that may be im­proved to spread more ben­e­fits in the Saint Lu­cia econ­omy.

Any new thrust must be aimed to de­lib­er­ately put in the hands of Saint Lu­cians the con­trol of the com­mand­ing heights of the na­tional econ­omy. In other words, we need to take time right now to ex­am­ine in-depth what we have given up for the devel­op­ment of tourism on the is­land. How our tax in­cen­tives have jus­ti­fied our in­vest­ments in tourism is an ur­gent ques­tion af­ter 40 years of po­lit­i­cal in­de­pen­dence. The avail­abil­ity of lower paid jobs alone within the in­dus­try will not cut it. It’s time to point to more top man­age­ment ap­point­ments such as chefs and ac­coun­tants in the larger ho­tels on the is­land.

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