The business of Sand, Sea and Sun is, atypically, no tranquil undertaking but the team at the Saint Lucia Tourist board has adapted a strategy that employs innovation and original thinking – cornerstones to the revolution in Saint Lucia’s tourism product recorded over the past few years.
In a sit-down with Business Focus OECS, Director of the Saint Lucia Tourist Board Mr. Louis Lewis placed innovation at the first floor of the empirical growth of the island’s diverse tourism product.
Lewis is armed with a $40 million purse annually and with it he has employed a number of diverse strategies that have literally resulted in the amplified growth of Saint Lucia as a tourism destination.
The Caribbean is fast becoming the go-to place for events of almost any kind with global icons emerging from its shores and shining the light of focus on the destinations individually and collectively. Saint Lucia has without a doubt produced its own icons in the likes of Nina Compton for culinary excellence and Levern Spencer and Darren Sammy in the arena of sports.
It is avenues like these that have peaked some of the interests of innovation and diversity in the island’s tourism product, and Lewis says the continued exploitation of these avenues will certainly be explored.
On that front, Saint Lucia has developed a masterful approach to promotion, which has appealed to markets previously unknown to the island. This is a reflection of a year-round approach with almost themed quarters serving as footstools for destination seekers and travel agents.
In outlining some of the island’s amazing growth statistics, Lewis said Saint Lucia’s overall visitor arrivals has skyrocketed by almost 30% in the last decade, with cruise ship arrivals standing at an all-time high with more than 600,000 visitors in 2015 alone.
Going forward, the Director said, his office would be adding a three-tier approach to the foundation of innovation and excellence that has already been set.
These include the further amplification of the island in the Caribbean destination market place. This first tier is being achieved through the promotion of the island as matchless in the niche market arena and one that offers an inimitable experience, capitalised around its landscape, warmth and hospitality.
“Someone who has made a decision to take a holiday is looking for an experience and we are presenting an experience that is different,” Lewis said.
He continues to bank his dollar on the much admired culture and heritage of his people, which in it-self, is an outstanding feat. The island’s topography is another outstanding avenue that provides a perfect mix of adventure, tranquillity and scenery.
“We are adding to the marketplace’s perception of what they are looking for in a vacation experience. We have a variety of all those aspects…good beaches, attractive and tropical, yet we can give them a rainforest experience, kayaking, diving, weddings and honeymoons,” Lewis said.
Next in the line of the three-tier approach is the fortification of existing relationships with key travel partners and airlines in North America and Europe, and further develop new relationships to ultimately create total hassle-free access with limited connections to the destination. Ease of access to a destination is a key factor for visitors and Lewis says this fact remains one that commands the full attention of his office.
“We have negotiated with the airlines in areas where we have strong pockets of visitor arrivals to the destination, in Canada and United States, to provide a direct air service to Saint Lucia.”
Completing the tier will serve to further solidify the platform set by the initial two through magnified marketing of the destination and the further climb of stay-over visitor numbers.
This aspect will weigh to a considerable extent on the Tourist Board’s impressive relationship with the island’s hotels – most of which have sustained aggressive and successful marketing strategies of their own. Saint Lucia boasts a range of six and five star hotel chains like Sandals Resorts International and also has a considerable complement of award-winning resorts and guest houses and bed and breakfast properties that appeal to an array of visitors and budgets.
“As a Tourist Board all we sell is an impression of the destination, but a final sale requires a place of stay and an airline ticket. Once we excite someone’s curiosity, the next question they ask is, how do I get here? Where do I stay? That’s where our partners come into play,” Lewis said.
On top of this, Lewis announced that the Saint Lucia Tourist Board is actively exploring new initiatives to increase the accommodation stock on island.
Already this year, over 700 new rooms are anticipated to be complete. These include the 550-room Royalton Luxury Resorts in Cap Estate; the 115-room Harbor Club in Rodney Bay, and an additional 100 rooms at the Papillon Hotel.
Tourism continues to be a considerable driver of the Saint Lucia economy, accounting for at least 12 per cent of its GDP.
“A few years ago we facilitated a study by the Oxford Research Group in the UK to measure the impact of tourism on all sectors of the economy. The extent to which your utility services depends on a viable tourism industry, water, agriculture, sales to the hotel plants…When we took all those components into consideration we found out that 64 per cent of Saint Lucia’s GDP was accounted for by tourism,” the island’s Tourism Director asserted.