Next year marks the 40th anniversary of independence for St Lucia, and the island has a host of plans to keep visitors arriving. Andrew Doherty reports
The eastern Caribbean nation of St Lucia looks set for a bumper 2019 when it celebrates 40 years of independence, with a clutch of new projects to revitalise its tourism offering.
UK operators are already forecasting strong performance for the island, pointing to British Airways’ increased seat capacity on winter flights from Gatwick as a promising start to the peak tourism season.
Karl Thompson, managing director of Unique Caribbean Holidays, the tour operating division of Sandals and Beaches Resorts, says: “This year was strong for bookings to St Lucia. Growth from the UK stands at 14% for Sandals Resorts, just below our overall growth for 2018 (20%).
“St Lucia is already showing a strong outlook for 2019, with a growth of more than 9% expected across our three existing Sandals resorts. The popularity of the island has also led us to announce plans for our fourth Sandals property.”
Meanwhile, the Inspiring Travel Company has reported a 6% rise in the number of room nights on 2017, with bookings for 2019 up 11% on this time last year, reports senior product and marketing manager, Helen Tabois.
“England’s cricketers are touring the West Indies in the first few months of 2019, so we have developed new spectator packages that are available through our sister company, ITC Sports Travel.
“Cricket fans can opt for an eight-night St Lucia tour to watch the third Test on a fully hosted tour in early February [prices from £4,145pp]. We’ve also chartered the luxury yacht, Crystal Esprit, for a West Indies voyage in the last week of February.”
In a bid to improve the quality of life for St Lucians and ensure future socio-economic growth, the Ministry of Tourism has launched a new committee comprised of senior representatives from the tourism authority and various ministries to establish a platform for the “best practice in sustainable and competitive tourism”.
Minister of tourism, Dominic Fedee, says: “The Tourism Advisory Committee [TAC] will facilitate partnerships between the public and private sector, seeking to resolve long-standing bottlenecks that impede product development and enhancement, while coming to a consensus regarding management of the tourism sector in St Lucia.”
Projects for 2019 include the Village Tourism initiative, which Fedee explains will “advance communities and strengthen their institutional infrastructure” while providing visitors with experiences created around art, music, food and folk traditions.
“Eight communities are earmarked for development: Gros Islet, Anse la Raye, Canaries, Soufriere, Choiseul, Vieux Fort, Micoud and Dennery,” enthuses Fedee.
“And the entity to manage Saint Lucia’s Village Tourism is expected to commence work in January.”
Alongside developments in sustainable tourism, plans and funding have been approved for a new terminal at Hewanorra International airport, which is slated to open in 2020.
Regarding the 40th anniversary of St Lucia’s independence, Fedee says celebrations will encompass sports, arts, culture and music.
“We want to target travellers who are looking for an experiential holiday,” Fedee explains. “These are people who dare to explore, who find it exhilarating to get off the beaten track and those who want to find experiences that cannot be had by remaining on a hotel property.
“Whether it’s a millennial who needs to be out and about, a luxury traveller that wants to experience nature in its most serene and authentic iterations or a family that wants to discover more about the culture and heritage of the country, everyone is welcomed and invited to create their perfect vacation.”