Notwithstanding its widespread acknowledgment as the cultural capital of St. Lucia, Choiseul with its ubiquitous endowment of attributes favourable to tourism development is yet to enjoy a slice of St. Lucia’s tourism pie, let alone its fair share.
Breathtaking scenic views, the Sabweesha beach park, the Saltibus trail and waterfall, the Carib heritage, the art and craft cottage industry, the folklore, La Rose & La Maguerite flower festivals, the fisheries sector - by no means an exhaustive list of prime pull factors to lure visitors to Choiseul. Whilst there has been talk about the intention to construct two large hotels in the community, in the interim, this Blog proposes a more strategic and sustainable approach to Tourism development in the community.
In fact this approach is in keeping with the promise outlined in the SLP Manifesto which advocates for a re-structured economy with “continued development of high-end tourism products such as adventure tourism, nature based tourism, and cultural tourism, conferences and community based tourism” (pg. 6).
Consultation with a local tourism expert – yes a Choiseulian - who has published several articles in international tourism journals revealed that cultural/community-based tourism is one of the fastest growing sub-sectors in tourism, as modern tourists are increasingly seeking more authentic, enriching experiences. Out of several tourism niche activities (viz. event tourism, sport tourism, adventure tourism), there has been a notable rise in cultural tourism. The Travel Industry Association reported that cultural tourists represented 81% of American adults traveling abroad.
Most studies on the impacts of tourism in St. Lucia have highlighted the inequitable geographical distribution of the tourism industry in St. Lucia. For example, in an article on Pro Poor Tourism in St. Lucia, Yves Renard noted that: “tourism amenities and activities are not evenly distributed geographically, and this constitutes a barrier for many…Tourism facilities are concentrated on the north-west coast of the island, and to a lesser extent in the Soufriere region in the south-west”. Boxill and Nicholas (2002) expressed the same notion in their study on the socio-economic impacts of tourism in St. Lucia. They found that while 90 percent of respondents believed that tourism benefits St. Lucia, only 52 percent believed that tourism has made a significant contribution to their community. As one respondent put it:
Tourism is centralized within the northern part of the country. My community gets no benefits from the industry. Tourists don’t visit my area at all. I wouldn’t even know that tourists were in the country, if I didn’t see them passing in vehicles (p. 98).
Unlocking the potential for tourism development, particularly cultural tourism in Choiseul, with a view to maximising much needed economic benefits to address the dire unemployment situation plaguing the community is therefore imperative. To complement the community’s historical and natural appeal, appropriate accommodation such as eco-lodges should also be considered to ensure that visitors are not transient but rather stay and spend in the community. The resources (natural and cultural assets, expertise etc.) are readily available. Thus, what is most required is innovation, commitment and political will and support.
The question which one is forced to contemplate now is, what is our Rep, who is also the Minister of Tourism, doing to unlock the potential for tourism in our Constituency with the view of alleviating the unemployment scourge with now prevails. ( He should, albeit, mindful of his closing statements during his contribution to the Estimates of Expenditure during this year's budget debate) It's time to step up to the plate and deliver.