By taking on the reins as Saint Lucia’s new Minister for Tourism, Investment, Creative Industries, Culture, and Information, Dr. Ernest Hilaire is executing a tourism strategy aimed at bolstering the sector and putting people at the forefront.
“The whole emphasis is to ensure we have linkages between area sectors, which function inter-connectedly with our tourism product, and the largest investment area for us is the tourism sector,” Hilaire tells Travel Courier. “In the previous administration there was another minister responsible for creative industries and for culture, in my case I am the full minister for all the portfolios… so there’s expected to be greater synergies.”
As part of the strategy there will be a push for community and village tourism.
“During the last election our theme was putting people, putting you first, and we really believe that people are at the centre of the tourism sector,” says Hilaire, who previously served Saint Lucia as High Commissioner to the United Kingdom. “We do not believe that the population and the people of Saint Lucia should see the tourism sector as something that belongs to visitors. They need to understand that tourism is fairly significant to our national development and it is about them. It needs to start at the centre going outwards. They are the ones that must carry the responsibility of shaping a successful tourism industry in Saint Lucia.”
In order to do so, they will identify ways to bring the benefits of tourism to the local population.
“We will be doing our part to get our people to own the tourism industry and to see it as a reflection of themselves. We do not see visitors as strangers who are invited to our lands but rather as guests that are coming to our homes, and we will treat them as such — make them feel welcome,” he says. “We want to create greater emphasis on visitor experience… Our mandate is very clear and we’re trusted with the responsibility to change the narrative and the understanding of the tourism industry from the local’s perspective.”
Saint Lucia is continuing to reduce restrictions in a phased approach for the safety of both locals and visitors alike as it seeks to restore and strengthen livelihoods and grow the important tourism sector.
“We intend to progressively open even more and offer greater opportunities for visitors to enjoy Saint Lucia and for our own locals to participate in some of our attractions,” says Hilaire. “I’m very optimistic from the reports I’ve been getting — bookings for the winter season — we are expecting a very, very encouraging season by the numbers.”
After nearly two years of “COVID-fatigue,” Hilaire believes travellers around the world are eager to explore again.
“They want to get out, they want to enjoy the benefits of outdoor activities and beaches, to go back out and have a normal life as much as possible. I think this is a global sentiment,” he says. “We see the signs for serious and significant increases for the winter. We’re very excited about that but we want to make sure we open up the country in a safe manner.”
Hilaire, who holds a Bachelor of Science and a Master of Philosophy degree with a distinction in International Relations, as well as a Ph.D. from the London School of Economics, notes that the Canadian market is “absolutely important.”
“We’ve had a long historic relationship with Canada not just with tourism but political and economical as well…,” he says. “As it relates to tourism, we also had a longstanding relationship with Canada and it has grown in recent years with regards to the lift we’ve gotten out of Canada and the expansion of that — and I think we will see again Canada being seen as a major targeted source market for us and greater efforts will be made for significant investment in our tourism sector.”
With safety protocols in place from mask wearing and sanitizing to physical distancing in place and Air Canada flights set to resume in September, he says “we will be more than eager to welcome you and provide some relief and de-stressing from the challenges you’ve experienced because of COVID.”