It’s not Carnival time here in St Lucia but all hotels and boarding houses are fully booked and St Lucia is basking in the results of its efforts to market itself as a tourist destination.
What St Lucia calls “record levels of crime” would make Trinidad and Tobago green with envy. The police here are doing their work.
According to reports there were 48 murders in the whole of 2010 and 38 homicides in 2011. In January 2012 alone, Trinidad and Tobago recorded 38 murders! The figure has already reached 52 for six weeks of 2012.
“We are certainly doing very well,” Louis E A Lewis, director of the St Lucia Tourist Board, told Newsday yesterday. “I am happy to say that our marketing efforts are paying off and we are booming.”
Walking around the island, you cannot help being struck by the sight of thousands of tourists from mainly North America and Europe all over this beautiful island.
Many are undoubtedly lured by St Lucia’s stunning coast with its white sands and blue water; its green, rugged, terrain and its relaxed island vibe.
The tourists are coming even though rooms are relatively pricey, ranging from around US$170 upwards and beyond per night.
There are dozens of all-inclusive resorts dotting the 616-square-feet sun-lit island, offering magnificent views, rest, spa services and fine dining. Over the busy Valentine’s Day, the hotels on the island, including Coco Palm, the Bay Hotel, Mago Estate Hotel and many more registered full bookings.
“We tend to be full this time of the year,” said Wendy, a receptionist at the Coco Palm, which is located on the northern coast. “All that tends to remain are some of the pricey suites but even those don’t last long.”
“At the beginning of the year we are always packed and this year is no exception,” said Mirancha, a receptionist of the Ginger Lily hotel, Rodney Bay Village.
“It hasn’t been a bad season,” said Vic, a taxi-driver who often ferries tourists around the island said. “There have been some bad years when you could not even pay the bills. But these days I can make ends meet.”
Tourists are coming from mainly the United States (35 per cent), the United Kingdom (25 per cent), Canada and the Caribbean. The boom has managed to survive the recent spike in crime.
“The level of crime has risen,” said journalist Victor Marquis, a newspaper editor at The Voice, a daily newspaper on the island.
“Crime used to be measured by levels of incidents of violence such as muggings and house-breaking. Now we measure crime by homicides.
We have had record levels of crime in previous years and this year began badly with five murders happening in a short space of time in January.”
Compared with the murder rate in Trinidad and Tobago — not to mention all the other instances of corruption which the police seem afraid to investigate, St Lucia is really a paradise.
No wonder Nobel Laureate Derek Walcott chose to be born there.
About 70,000 Brits visit St Lucia annually and the 38 murders in St Lucia in 2011 caused the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) to make a note. How many notes have been made on Trinidad and Tobago?
Homicides tend to occur in St Lucia within the local communities but sometimes can affect tourists. Muggings and thefts from hotels, yatchs or holiday homes do occur and are occasionally accompanied by violence and there have been a number of serious assaults, involving tourists and residents, in recent years, according to the FCO.
Like Trinidad and Tobago, there is a gang problem. Gang members frequently mark their territory with graffiti and have been linked with serious crimes.
“The gangs absorb impressionable youths profiting from the high prevalence of deviants exhibited by juvenile delinquency of that group and the erosion of the family unit as the main building block of our society,” Corporal Wayne Charlery said last year as the country continued to come to grips with crime.
Notably, however, the FCO —and other international bodies —have not gone so far as to issue travel restrictions.
“Crime has not affected the performance of the industry,” Lewis noted. “However it is something we are constantly concerned about. It can impact on the image of the country and damage the flow of arrivals as well as the level of on-island revenue-generating activities.”
For some on the island, there is a feeling that the crime rate is abating.
“There is a feeling that the crime has reached a plateau,” Marquis said. Some say it is this feeling that is behind the vibrant and busy tourism industry.
Another factor could be the fact that St Lucia pays as much care and attention to the industry as it does to dealing with crime.
This is almost certainly because tourism is the main source of income for St Lucia and is its biggest employer.
St Lucia has a small population of 174,000 or roughly one-tenth of Trinidad and Tobago’s. It’s GDP per capita is around US$6,560 per capita (Trinidad and Tobago’s is US$15,380).
Before tourism took over as the main industry, the island earned most of its revenue from the banana industry and, like other banana regional banana producers, benefited from preferred access to European markets.
With the end of those preferential arrangements, the island turned to tourism and has relied on it more and more.
And it has been easy for the island to attract visitors. The island boasts picturesque beaches, lush forested mountains — which make a stunning impression from the air — exotic and colourful plants and unique features like the Qualibou volcano with its boiling sulphur springs. The result is an industry which provides an exceptional product and exceptional service.
Everywhere on the island, tourists are made to feel welcome.
Staff at restaurants, bars, hotels, resorts pay attention to the needs of customers.
Workers in the tourism industry are knowledgeable about the St Lucia tourism product: they know the exact location of most attractions on the island, where the best beaches and restaurants are, which local beers are brewed on the island or not and all the options in terms of sight-seeing and leisure activities. “We pay a lot of attention to the human aspect of tourism,” Lewis noted. “A lot of effort has been placed on the training aspect of it. The St Lucian people naturally have a warm disposition. We have also recognised that a key aspect of the tourism product is the human experience: how tourists are actually treated by staff. There is a continuous monitoring of this through routine surveys which pay close attention to this.”
Walking around St Lucia, including Castries the capital, there is a sense of ease. Locals and tourists are relaxed. Vendors sell trinkets, street-food, colourful souvenirs.
There is a wide range of activity: from parties on packed beaches, to tranquil expeditions inland among the local plant and animal life.
At nights, restaurants are packed with waiters busily bussing meals that have been prepared using fresh local ingredients, especially sea-food.
“We have always worked non-stop and that does not appear to be changing,” one waiter said, holding a large tray of dishes at a popular sea-side eaterie facing the warm Caribbean sea.
St Lucia today is working hard to earn its keep.
There is a new Prime Minister at the helm — Dr Kenny Anthony — and police officers, far from chasing shadows, are doing their work in dealing with crime, fully conscious of the fact that when crime is brought under control, a nation has far to go.