President’s Closed Session Speech at SLHTA 51st AGM
Speech at Closed Session of 51st AGM Tourism: Engage, Educate, Empower
I am delighted to welcome you all to the 51st Annual General Meeting of our Association and the Linkages in Tourism Tradeshow which has now become a main part of our AGM. The diversity and size of our Association is growing with each passing year and this year may very well see us becoming the largest Private Sector Association on the island. Our Board is pleased to report on the many activities we have engaged in and also the issues on which we have been working on with our various sectors.
It is my hope that today will provide us with an opportunity to actively dialogue with you and that we will receive your feedback on the quality of this representation over the past two years. Of key importance also is the fact that this AGM provides all of us here with the opportunity to elect a new Board for another two year term and the opportunity to craft their mandate for the year ahead.
More then ever must our work include focus on the creation of a sustainable tourism environment, embracing the whole spectrum of sustainability, starting with our environmental responsibilities, and followed by Social Equity, Economic Health and Cultural Vitality. Climate Change, renewable energy, energy efficiency, waste recycling and water management are all important and serious issues to address.
I cannot emphasize often enough that your input, not only at the AGM’s, but throughout the year is not only welcome but also extremely important so that we can ensure that we do indeed represent all members of our Association to the fullest extent and that we in fact consider and incorporate any suggestions and requests made by our individual members to achieve our many goals.
Let me talk about our finances: Our Association finances have clearly improved since our last sitting together. The success of our La Belle Helene 2015 Publication had much to do with this, despite our passionate exchange last year on the many challenges facing the magazine. Today we are proud to report on our relationship with our publishers and our expectations to expand the La Belle Helene over the coming year. The 2016 edition is set to present the work of more local writers and photographers and the discussion on its publication has already begun. Some of the content will include highlighting locally made products as well as a large section on the many activities available on Saint Lucia. We are also planning a retrospective of Sir Dunstan St Omer’s artist life and dedicate a chapter to art in general. We ask that you please continue to support this important publication.
There has been much public discussion on the success of our Tourism Enhancement Fund as well. We are very proud of the hotels currently participating in this initiative and while there is significant improvement to be made in getting the remaining 30 percent of our room stock to join the TEF, we are grateful for the support of those who share our vision for the impact of this Fund. This impact has been felt in the lives of students, industry employees, community groups, destination marketing efforts, SLHTA member groups and visitors to our shores. It is a growing testament of the tremendous power of our Association when we speak and move with a collective voice. The Fund has financed over 25 projects last year and is set to continue making its mark on many new initiatives which we will speak of today. Our AGM Report, documents all of these initiatives and the various amounts expended on each. Our greatest challenge now facing the TEF is its expansion to include contributions from other sources and sectors to build the coffers for more great projects. One of the future projects in discussion for example is the establishment of a Hospitality Training School with the TEF underwriting some of the expenditure, but these are big plans dependent on us being able to further expand on those who will contribute to the Fund.
The Apprenticeship Program, another brainchild of the Tourism Enhancement Fund, continues to push towards its target of 1200 apprentices placed this year. Again the program is driven by the participation of over 25 SLHTA member companies and poised to be expanded to include participation from non-SLHTA member companies soon. The impact on the lives of many apprentices has proven to be life changing. We are further pleased to see the integration of some of these graduands into full time employment by firms which have been very impressed with the quality of our apprentices.
One thousand industry employees are now signed up for benefits under our SLHTA Group Medical Insurance Program launched at our last AGM. This is another major game changer that our Association must be proud to take credit for. While many did not believe in our ability to galvanize support to make this project successful, we are pleased to prove them wrong. The project is on target to enroll 2000 industry employees before the end of this year and we have already started the discussion in-house on Group Public Liability Insurance, an industry Pension Scheme and insurance packages specifically targeting the needs of sectors such as the dive sector and taxi operators.
We have launched a variety of Destination Marketing initiatives and have had some success with these but feel there is room for a further review and further improvement. These initiatives included support for our small hotels via our booking engine BookStLuciaNow.com, branding of these properties under the Hidden Gems of Saint Lucia campaign, promotion of our Ti Hotels brand in the German market and support for airlift from Canada. While we are yet to find the perfect marketing mix, we are pleased that some of these initiatives are contributing to the increases in arrivals.
With the creation of our website DestinationSaintLucia.com, we have created what we call an online product guide for our destination, focused on our members. I am pleased to report that this product guide is currently being translated into Portuguese and we should have the complete site translated by ending of June.
Safety and Security: This topic however has proven to be much more challenging. The Association has endeavored to conduct Service standards training with members of the Royal Saint Lucia Police Force and is set to provide Customer Relationship Management training for officers of the Immigration Department next month. As we continue to strengthen the relationship between the industry and the newly appointed Safety and Security Liaison Officer with the Ministry of Tourism, there are still inexplicable delays in obtaining the necessary approvals to pursue training of special police constables assigned to the accommodation sector. Notwithstanding the uphill battle on this front, we have proposed the establishment of a Tourism Police Unit within the ambit of the Royal Saint Lucia Police Force and have been working diligently in reviewing regional best practices for implementation of this unit over the coming year. Indeed we are pleased that the Prime Minister has committed to this initiative, as expressed in his budget address this year.
The sluggish pace of prosecution of alleged perpetrators of crime, poor follow up with victims of criminal activity, reduction in the size of the police force, limited crime fighting resources and limitations in the judicial system continue to conspire against investor confidence. There is still much to be done on these issues and it is a concern for all, residents and visitors alike.
From a tourism perspective, we must not loose sight of the potential bad press the destination may attract if some of the high profile cases in particular will not be solved or come to trial in some instances. I have been personally involved in dialogue with Mrs Margaret Pratt for example, who has been patiently awaiting progress in the murder case of her husband Roger Pratt. Mrs Pratt has been extremely gracious to St.Lucia given the terrible circumstances, but it is extremely hard for her to comprehend why progress in the case is so slow.
The sluggish pace of prosecution of alleged perpetrators of crime, poor follow up with victims of criminal activity, reduction in the size of the police force, limited crime fighting resources and limitations in the judicial system continue to conspire against investor confidence. There is still much to be done on these issues and we must not loose sight of the potential bad press the destination may attract if some of the high profile cases in particular will not be solved or come to trial in some instances. I have been personally involved in dialogue with Mrs Margaret Pratt for example, who has been patiently awaiting progress in the murder case of her husband Roger Pratt. Mrs Pratt has been extremely gracious to St.Lucia given the terrible circumstances, but it is extremely hard for her to comprehend why progress in the case is so slow.
Over the past year, the SLHTA has noted the proliferation of offerings from many international firms promising energy efficient products, alternative efficient solutions and various financing options to hotels and other institutions. The array of offerings can be confusing and impede decision making for many companies. In an effort to more clearly assess and address the needs of the Private Sector in this regard and to better advise our members, the SLHTA proposed the formation of an Energy Task Force comprising representatives of SLHTA, the Department of Sustainable Development in your Ministry of Public Service, Sustainable Development, Energy, Science and Technology and the Ministry of Tourism, Heritage and Creative Industries.
The core objectives of the Energy Task Force would be to assess energy consumption patterns in the tourism industry, liaise with investors interested in providing retrofitting technology, renewable and alternative energy creation technologies and financing options for the tourism industry, to ensure that the tourism sector will have the best possible opportunity to operate sustainably and be able to have maximum benefits from renewable energy options. By clearly identifying the needs of the industry it is our hope to still be able to influence the new legislation that has been drawn up. Representatives of the various partners have all been identified and the work of this Task Force is expected to formally commence after the appointment of our new Board of Directors today.
Water Security is another key concern of our industry. While we await the implementation of the corrective works to the John Compton Dam to enhance its capacity and service, many of our properties have been experimenting with various measures to address their needs. These measures have ranged from enhanced storage capacity, investment in transportation of the resource to properties during low supply periods and investment in desalination plants and reverse osmosis technology. As burdensome as these capital intensive projects are, water security is not something we can take lightly.
We continue to enjoy better relationships with the new management of WASCO and must compliment them on their efforts to attend to the urgent matters affecting the provision of this resource. The coming months will be particularly concerning as WASCO moves to dredge the dam. We will continue our partnership to monitor these measures and work towards sustainable gains in this area.
Conflict resolution and mediation is becoming more frequent among various sectors jostling to defend and grow profit margins and market share. Our Secretariat is being called upon more frequently to mediate these discussions outside of regulatory guidance. While this is testament to the growing trust in our ability to lead, it places new demands on our meager Secretariat and that is something our new Board of Directors attend to.
Nonwithstanding our accomplishments and efforts locally, there is much to be concerned about regionally and internationally and certainly, we will have our work cut out for the coming year. We are faced with new competition from neighboring islands and the emergence of Cuba as a contender for visitors from the United States.
We continue our struggles to boost airlift at lower airfares, we must continue our close collaboration with the Saint Lucia Tourist Board to achieve consistently high occupancy figures throughout the year. We worry about currency fluctuations that may affect our business from the United Kingdom and the Euro Zone.
The challenges to access finance for tourism based businesses and our high cost of operations make investment in plant, machinery and human resource development increasingly challenging and it is absolutely crucial that we as an industry find a way forward in this matter. We urge the banks serving Saint Lucia to reconsider their position in regard to financing tourism enterprises and agree with us that an enhanced tourism product is a win win for all.
We as an industry must come to terms with the existence of websites like Airbnb and VRBO offering non licenced tourist accommodation and find a way to create a level playing field for all.
We must look closely at the needs of an expanding cruise sector and the challenges created by this expansion for land based tourism enterprises. SLHTA must establish a close relationship with the Cruise Association to ensure that our members who are dependent on this business understand the expectations of the cruise sector in terms of experiential quality and product development, especially with Cuba expected to become a very serious contender for cruise business. We must play an active role in our destination product development to ensure that we remain a desirable and competitive destination. SLHTA must continue to build a strong relationship with land and water based transportation providers.
In close cooperation with the Ministry of Tourism and Tourist Board, find creative ways to support small hotels, guesthouses, restaurants and bars. In close cooperation with Ministries of Agriculture and Commerce, continue to build strong linkages to manufacturing and local farmers. And last not least, work on an effective tourism awareness campaign, and bring back the Tourism Awards to honor our team members and companies that have gone above and beyond.
While our Directors are proud of the work of our Association over the past four years, I hope I could showcase to you that there is still much to do and a great need for more members to get involved. To facilitate increased efficiencies, we will also discuss amendments to our constitution and key targets for measuring our accomplishments over the coming year. I wish to thank you all for your attendance at our 2015 Annual General Meeting and invite you all to play your part in our theme Tourism: Engage, Educate, Empower.