Saturday,  October 19, 2019  9:47 pm

Rum, romance and all that jazz: Saint Lucia sounds off on 2019

Rum, romance and all that jazz: Saint Lucia sounds off on 2019
Dominic Fedee, Minister of Tourism, Saint Lucia & Tiffany Howard, CEO, Saint Lucia Tourism Authority.
Blake Wolfe

Blake Wolfe is an award-winning journalist and editor, who joined PAX after nearly 10 years in Canada’s newspaper industry. In addition to PAX, his work has been featured in publications such as the Metroland Media group of newspapers and the Toronto Sun.

With unique Caribbean experiences enticing increasing numbers of Canadians to Saint Lucia each year, the push is on to increase airlift and bring those travellers to the island year-round.

It was one of those unique experiences – in this case, the 2019 Saint Lucia Jazz Festival – that brought Saint Lucia Tourism Minister Dominic Fedee and Saint Lucia Tourism Authority CEO Tiffany Howard to Toronto on March 1, where they were joined by Saint Lucia’s Canadian representatives and trade partners to celebrate the festival’s recent partnership with the renowned Jazz at Lincoln Centre.

Taking place May 5 through May 12, the popular event showcases talent from across the Caribbean and around the world, with Grammy winner Gregory Porter among the marquee acts.

READ MORE: Saint Lucia passes the 1M mark in 2018

Speaking with PAX, Fedee said that Saint Lucia’s reputation as a musical hotspot is but one of many examples of the island’s cultural experiences that have helped set the island apart from its neighbours. And with Saint Lucia surpassing the 1 million visitor mark in both 2018 and 2017, the promotion of these offerings appears to be working, he said.

“I think tourism for a long time has been the anchor and backbone of our economy – the very fabric of our survival – and it’s an overall push; not just to sell our beaches and hotels but to sell our rums, hot sauce, music and the vibrancy of our culture: to sell who we are as a people,” Fedee said. “It’s working well. We’re taking this comprehensive approach to developing our destination and telling the world that Saint Lucia is more than a beach.”

Canada on the grow

Canadians in particular are drawn by such experiences, Howard said; whether it’s staying in an eco-chic resort such as Body Holiday (offering farm-to-table dining) or the Boucan by Hotel Chocolat (where the owners state “they’re chocolatiers first,” added Fedee) or just sampling the local cuisine, Canadians are open to different experiences.

“The whole vibe of having fun while on vacation – Canadians are drawn to that,” Howard told PAX. “Being able to go out and visit the villages and attend a fish fry for a dining experience outside of the resort – you want to feel like you can do that comfortably and Saint Lucia offers all of that.”

Added Fedee:

“Even all-inclusives have recognized that in order to succeed, to remain relevant with millennials and new markets coming on stream, they’ve got to have a very active tourism excursion program, which will allow their guests to see as much of the island as possible. They also need to bring into their offer as many cultural experiences as possible. It’s no longer behind-the-gates; customers are being organized to go from the resort to all of the other spots on the island.”

Singer Sage Harris entertained the crowd at the event

A chance for romance

Named as the World’s Leading Honeymoon Destination for 2018 at the World Travel Awards, Saint Lucia has also garnered a reputation as a romance destination for weddings and honeymoons, a designation which Howard said has literally come naturally for the destination.

“Every angle of Saint Lucia is designed for romance, whether it’s the Pitons as a backdrop or the Caribbean Sea or the extraordinary romance areas within all of these hotels. It’s become so experiential: everyone wants that perfect shot and here, you can get that perfect shot over and over again.

“This year, for the first time in the Caribbean, we have an underwater wedding. This is actually a Canadian couple who attended a dive FAM in 2018; they had such a great time that they decided to get married there!”

Increasing capacity

With the charms of Saint Lucia drawing more travellers every year, Fedee explained that the island is taking a proactive approach in ensuring those numbers continue to climb, the most important aspect of this strategy being the redevelopment of Hewanorra International Airport.

According to the minister, construction on the $157 million USD project is expected to begin within months (with a projected 2020 opening date), adding a new terminal building and expanding the range of amenities offered.

“With arrivals growing steadily over the last 15 years, we’ve got to plan for this extraordinary growth that we’re seeing from all of our markets,” he said.

The other piece of the puzzle is increasing airlift from Canada, Howard explained, adding that the organization has been speaking with WestJet about the prospect of adding flights; currently, service is offered by Air Canada Rouge (operating direct year-round) and Sunwing, which recently entered a partnership with Rex Resorts to operate the hotel chain’s properties in Saint Lucia.

Efforts also continue to increase awareness of the destination amongst both consumers and travel agents, such as through the recently relaunched website and ongoing promotion of the destination’s Saint Lucia Experts program for the trade.

“We were out of the market for just a minute – we went from a board to an authority and we wanted to ensure that we came back with a vengeance. I think we’ve accomplished that; we’re on billboards, trains stations, radio and taxis and it was really to make people remember how amazing our destination is,” Howard said. “People are so excited about coming to Saint Lucia so our next task is matching the air service to the demand – we’re working on getting that air service up to where it needs to be.”