Public relations professional turned politician Dominic Fedee is urging the government to establish a National Committee to look at the potential threats the Cuban tourism market poses to St. Lucia.
Fedee told a news conference on Monday (Nov. 2) that the United Workers Party (UWP) observes with great concern the pending thawing of relationships between the United States and Cuba.
He said that there have been a number of tours and one major cruise line that have announced tours to Cuba this year, with the potential of these tourist arrival numbers increasing in the future.
“This in itself is a trend indication as how things are going, as travel restrictions continue to be reduced for tourist travel from the United States to Cuba, our major source market,” he added.
Fedee said this issue should be addressed head-on, so that St. Lucia can optimize on the few potential opportunities, given that Cuba currently outshines every single Caribbean destination.
The current regional public relations manager for Sandals also observed that Cuba has already placed a dent in the traditional Caribbean markets such as Europe, where they have access to over one million tourists.
The country is also getting over one million visitors from the Latin American market and another million from the Canadian market, which is number one for every single Caribbean destination.
“It shows you the power of the Cuban brand, and the mystique and the great attractions that they posses. It also shows the drawing power they have for our visitors and the world over,” Feedee explained.
While experts have projected that the opening up of the Cuban tourism market may affect islands in the Northern Caribbean, more than it will affect St Lucia, which is located in the Southern Caribbean; Feedee said there is still need for concern because even cruise ship arrivals can immediately be impacted.
“This is especially in times of high oil prices where the cruise lines might be tempted to go into a position whereby they are looking to cut cost on travel. I think there is a lot here to be considered by a number of people,” he said.
Despite this, the UWP politician believes that there are still a number of opportunities to consider, where St. Lucia can plan for the potential one million tourists coming out of the Canadian market, while simultaneously trying to tap into to other source markets to increase tourist arrivals here.
But while Feedee is extremely concerned about the potential threat the Cuban tourism market poses to other Caribbean tourism destinations, including St. Lucia, Tourism Minister Lorne Theophilus had made his opinion clear that he is not worried, because “Cuba is just another competitor.”
Theophilus had told a media conference in January this year, “As players in tourism, we compete against the world. Everyday there is new destinations, everyday existing destinations do the things we do, try to improve and expand on their tourist product so that they can attract the tourist dollar just as we do.”
While he has admitted that there may be some “intrigue” surrounding Cuba, the tourism minister said his ministry and by extension the Saint Lucia Tourist Board (SLTB) “intends to continue to pursue what we believe is our sustainable and strategic strategy towards the marketing and development of Saint Lucia as a destination.”
Theophilus had boasted about Saint Lucia’s unique qualities and said when that is fused with the island’s unique culture; Cuba is nowhere close to offering that. “We believe that once we continue doing this, we will continue to maintain our presence and Cuba’s emergence within the market will not affect us in one way or the other.”
According to a 2011 International Monetary Fund (IMF) study called “The Vacation Is Over: Implications for the Caribbean of Opening U.S.-Cuba Tourism, by former senior IMF economist Rafael Romeu, “the opening of Cuba to US tourism would represent seismic shift in the Caribbean’s tourism industry.” The study said that it would result in 3.5 million to 5 million US tourists to Cuba a year.
Cuba was once a haven for sun-seeking American tourists. Beautiful beaches, lively casinos and late-night dancing made it the perfect getaway, only an hour’s flight from Miami.
This prediction has already started to take shape, as a few Caribbean islands have recorded minimal growth in tourism numbers, as against previous years, when they would have had far more successful figures.