Florence Derrick spoke to St Lucia’s minister of tourism, Dr Ernest Hilaire, about the future of tourism on the island – from sustainability and community-based tourism to Covid safety
Down-to-earth St Lucia is blessed with some of the Caribbean’s most jaw-dropping natural splendour. Waterfalls plunge through dense jungle landscapes, and hidden sugar-sand beaches, old plantations and extinct volcanic cones offer themselves up for exploring – whether that’s on a hike or with a salty dip in the sea.
St Lucia’s minister of tourism doesn’t need to be reminded of his island’s beauty. But since the onset of Covid, Dr Ernest Hilaire has been working hard to reinstate tourism there, with some notable changes since 2019. When we caught up with him after WTM, he highlighted three main focuses for St Lucia’s tourism offering – for 2022 and beyond.
“In the hospitality and tourism sector in St Lucia, we have very high vaccination rates – with some resorts at 100 per cent. You need to be vaccinated yourself if you are requesting people to arrive vaccinated. The hospitality sector has accepted the importance of vaccinations and we have seen a high uptake.
“We’ve really made strides opening up as much as we can in a safe and manageable way. Some other regions of the world have not opened up to the extent that we have, because of our size and because of how we’ve been able to manage Covid.
“We’ve been trying to get all our taxi drivers to be vaccinated so they can carry vaccinated passengers, and they’re responding well. We’re constantly modifying and adjusting our protocols to open up even more.”
“The increasing focus on sustainable tourism is encouraging for me. We’ve long been preaching for the need to focus on a sustainable model, that puts people at the forefront and is sensitive to the environment. I sense an increased determination from stakeholders to focus on these issues, and St Lucia wants to be at the forefront of promoting this kind of tourism – a shift away from resort-based tourism.
“Sometimes it’s ironic how things evolve. We’ve been very critical of the tourism industry in the past as we’ve seen it as one of the greatest threats to the environment. Ironically, it’s now evolving so it can be one of our greatest safeguards.
“St Lucia is a leading destination for diving, and has the potential to become the best diving destination in the Caribbean and one of the best in the world. There are so many dive sites that we can develop and so many coral reefs that we can restore that we’ve neglected in the past. Tourism has given us an opportunity to build new reefs and build new dive sites, and reset the ecological balance that we once had and that was once abandoned.
“The mangroves have been neglected for years, but our visitors want to visit those areas. We now have a chance to protect them more than ever. Tourism can actually help us in support of our environmental issues, and enhance our livelihoods. We have both the environmental and the economic incentive.”
“We have some really authentic experiences that we want visitors to enjoy, like chocolate making experiences and a rum making experience at a facility that’s hoping to attract 300,000 visitors per year. You can even visit the spice fields where they grow the spices for spiced rum.
“A signature programme for us in the next few years, launching in early 2022, will be community-based tourism. It’s about giving more support to our communities, to be able to host and accommodate visitors and offer them authentic experiences. We want to move away from resort-based experiences and complement them with authentic experiences.
“Tourists will even be able to reside with the communities in authentic, certified accommodation. And it’s a sustainable tourism product – one that offers livelihoods to our people and makes them active participants in the tourism industry, rather than passive observers. This is something that’s dear to my heart.”