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Tourism Minister Dominic Fedee has credited tourist arrivals and the expansion of several hotel properties fror the boost in the country’s employment rate.
Fedee made the announcement at a pre-Cabinet press briefing on Monday and in Parliament on Tuesday, as he sought to clarify and respond to recent statements challenging figures released last month by the Central Statistics Department, which showed that unemployment went from 20.8 percent in the second quarter of 2017 to 16.8 percent in the third quarter – a four percent drop.
About 5,000 new jobs were created in the third quarter of this year, according to the stats.
“The statistics department indicated that the job numbers were led by the accommodation sector and I want to say that they are absolutely correct, because when we look at developments within the tourism sector, we see not only do we have tremendous occupancy increases, but we also have about 500 rooms that have come back into circulation,” Fedee told reporters on Monday.
He continued: “A number of the hotels were under construction and employees were home, perhaps, during the second quarter. And so I wanna share some stats with the media. These 500 rooms which came back into circulation included Beljou Hotel [of which] 76 rooms which was previously closed. And they had 100 people working on the construction site.
“Sandals Halcyon had during that time employed … 36 rooms back into circulation. Sandals Grande introduced their Over Water Suites which total 15 rooms. Royalton Resort, while we saw them opening in January, what we did not know is that they had not opened all 455 rooms.
“And at the Royalton, the report coming out suggest that they had just opened their last room block of 72 rooms, which accounted for an additional 253 employees at the Royalton rResort. And they continue to employ more St. Lucians. We saw at Coconut Bay, they expanded with a high end section of the hotel, averaging about three employees per room at the new Serenity Hotel.
“Windjammer Landing, over 200 rooms was closed for construction… and they have reopened their hotel. So it stands to reason therefore that if you have 500 rooms coming back into circulation in the third quarter of 2017, and the average hotel employee would be about two per room, therefore it is clear that, just in that quarter, the sector had generated at least 1,000 new jobs.”
The tourism minister also credited airlift for the increase in employment.
“Now what the statistics didn’t say, there is also additional airlift from Sunwing and Thomson. [This] accounted for over 1,600 seats accumulatively. And that would obviously have a big impact on occupancy levels. So you would have seen the tourist statistics. They are our year to date figures. [They] have been averaging about 10 percent on a monthly basis. So we have double-digit increases in the month of July, double-digit increases in the month of August, and double-digit increases in the month of September – all having a positive impact in terms of how hotels would actually hire.”
Fedee said more jobs will be created in light of the fact that a number of hotel properties are expanding and/or upgrading.
“When we look at the tourism sector we see that Harbour Club continues to be under construction. Windjammer continues to be under construction. Well in fact they have just completed their construction…. Royalton, during that time was completing the hotel [and] building its conference facilities, and also building an additional room block. Sandals Halcyon was doing massive upgrades to its properties to expand the resort and raise the profile of the resort from a three-and-a-half or four star to a five star offering with more butler suites. Beljou Hotel had 106 employees on the construction site,” Fedee pointed out.
The tourism minister’s presentations came after Castries South MP Dr. Ernest Hilaire, criticised the statistics at a Saint Lucia Labour Party meeting held at the Castries Market steps one week ago.
Hilaire said the numbers just do not add up.
“So in agriculture, fisheries and forestry they created 2,200 jobs in three months. Most of those jobs they said were skilled workers… maybe people working in the banana field, fishermen [and] what not… But when you look at the figures, all of a sudden there are zero managers in agriculture; there are no more professionals in agriculture; they have no technicians working in agriculture anymore. There is no clerical support staff working…How [is it that] in April, May, June, you had so many people working as managers, clerical staff, [and in] technical jobs- and by July, August, September [it is] zero, zero, zero?” Dr. Hiliare questioned.
He further raised questions about, the food, services and accommodation sector figures.
According to the statistics department 2,000 jobs were created in hotels and restaurants in three months.
“In Laborie, 1,000 jobs were created in accommodation and food services. 1,000 jobs created in Laborie in hotels and restaurants?” he asked.
“What hotels does Laborie have like that?” he asked in Creole.
Below are the video presentations by Fedee at the press briefing and in the House of Parliament