St Lucia keeping watch on tourism sector
CASTRIES – The Saint Lucia Tourist Board (SLTB) is entering a period of significant transition.
Minister in the Office of the Prime Minister with responsibility for Tourism, Information and Broadcasting Dominic Fedee spoke at length in Parliament on November 8, to explain why government was compelled to make pivotal moves to restore the viability of the island’s main economic driver and foreign exchange earner.
He explained while the Government of Saint Lucia aims to achieve greater results from the tourism sector in the areas of visitor arrivals, cruise tourism and yachting, emerging statistics on visitor arrivals and a diagnosis of the financial standing of the SLTB both presented dismal findings.
“There seems to have been a focus on land-based tourism, and there wasn’t any clear mandate to promote the island as the destination of choice for cruise passengers,” he said. “Cruise passenger arrivals year to date recorded a 19.6 per cent decline.”
Minister Fedee said it was concerning that the Board fell below its target figures in several key areas, including the UK and Canada markets, and cruise and visitor arrivals.
“We also found our main entity to market our destination (the SLTB), in a very bad financial state. In fact, the financial statements show that the Board started the financial year 2016/2017 with payables from the year 2015/2016 of over $6 million. So while the Board had to contend with dwindling budgets because of policy decisions made by the previous dispensation, we saw that they were starting flat-footed with a debt of $6 million.”
The 2016/2017 SLTB budget also appeared to have been almost exhausted by September, the minister disclosed.
“With a budget of $34 million for the financial year 2016/17, the Board had already spent $26 million by the end of September and of the remaining $8 million, $4.8 million was allocated for administrative expenses and $3 million was committed to contracts to UK airlines to operate as marketing, creative and public relations agencies. No allocation was made in the budget to cover the payables which continue to be of much concern to the functionality of the Board. And while $11 million was allocated to the Saint Lucia Jazz Festival, actual expenditure was in excess of 14 million. This represents gross mismanagement and did impede the Board from carrying out its main function of marketing Saint Lucia as effectively as it should,” he said.
He announced that the government will usher in a period of transition and transparency at the SLTB, in order to rescue the island’s mainstay from further losses. The results of a financial audit will be made available to the public when completed, he added. (PR)