ST. LUCIA (July 21, 2018) - The outgoing president of the St. Lucia Hotel and Tourism Association (SLHTA), and the youngest to date, expressed his appreciation to the executive and membership of the trade association for their accomplishments over the past two years.
In his final appearance as president at yesterday's Annual General Meeting, Sanovnik Destang, 37, stated the collective work of the influential private sector body contributed to the growth of tourism on the island, pointing to statistics showing double-digit increases in stay-over arrivals and expenditures in 2017, and similar advances in cruise arrivals.
He highlighted a number of key projects implemented during his term, which include developing a cadre of young leaders in the sector, expanding tourism linkages to increase the share of revenues generated from the industry to local communities, achieving a record level of association membership, and presiding over the financial stewardship of the body which broke even for the first time in half a decade.
Destang, Executive Director of the locally owned Bay Gardens Resorts chain of hotels in the north of St. Lucia, added that despite the record high growth, there was still much to be done, including the matter of smaller properties discounting rates due to the greater supply of rooms on the island.
Citing figures that indicate the increased arrivals did not benefit all hotels equally, Destang urged the association to focus on ensuring that smaller properties also reap the benefits of higher tourism arrivals. He argued that more targeted marketing campaigns utilizing digital media can increase business for all hotels and B&Bs.
Destang reminded SLHTA members of the importance of airlift and the high price of air travel, as well as the proposed airport taxes which he contended would make St. Lucia extremely uncompetitive relative to other destinations in the region.
Destang called on the authorities to ensure parity between the larger properties and the smaller, indigenous businesses and believes it is time to enact tourism policy and legislation to help police these situations and to "set the rules of the game".
He declared: "It simply does not make sense to have an annual general meeting focused on People, Passion and Linkages without a frank and open discussion about how to encourage the growth of a tourism industry that is truly inclusive and allows small indigenous St. Lucian businesses as much opportunity to succeed and benefit from the numerous and lucrative opportunities of the industry as much as anyone else."
Destang noted the government had agreed to boost security arrangements to address the harassment of visitors, the need for beach patrols, and increased presence in those areas with high visitor pedestrian traffic.
Turning to the growth of the sharing economy, he urged SLHTA members to understand: "The alternative accommodations sector is not our foe or our replacement. They have an important part to play in our tourism product development and present tremendous opportunities for local entrepreneurship especially given the recent thrust of the government's village tourism program."
However, Destang, who manages his family's four Rodney Bay hotels, predicted that without effective regulation and taxation the sector would not reach its full potential or its contribution to the national economy.
Underscoring SLHTA's commitment to sustainable development, he suggested the tourism sector could help by producing its own renewable energy.
The outgoing president was pleased with the success of efforts to encourage farmers to sell their products directly to hotels, restaurants and retailers. In addition to generating significant incomes for farmers, the country also saved funds by cutting back on the amount of food imported. The award-winning and innovative Virtual Agricultural Clearing House leveraged the WhatsApp messaging platform to connect farmers with hotels to generate more than US$370,000 in annual sales.
Among other issues, Destang lauded the success of the Tourism Enhancement Fund which allowed SLHTA to launch a wide range of programs to enhance the skills of industry employees and to promote the importance of tourism to the lives of St. Lucians.
The association's focus on people-centered development has successfully spawned a generation of highly skilled personnel in the tourism sector, and he buttressed his statement by pointing to the "wildly successful" St. Lucian teams which reaped "a whopping eight medals" at the Taste of the Caribbean event hosted by the Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association (CHTA) in Miami this year.
Destang thanked association members for their generous contributions to efforts to aid the victims of hurricanes Irma and Maria, which generated much goodwill for SLHTA and St. Lucia.
He thanked SLHTA for taking a risk by electing someone of his generation to serve at the highest rank. "I might have been the association's youngest president, and first millennial president, but I will certainly not be the last, and I think the entire board has seen the importance of focusing their attention on the grooming of the next generation for leadership in the industry."
Destang congratulated fellow hotelier and immediate past president of the Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association, Karolin Troubetzkoy on her election as the new SLHTA President. Troubetzkoy, the Executive Director of Anse Chastanet and Jade Mountain Resorts, will be joined by newly elected First Vice President John Mathurin, owner of Serenity Vacations & Tours, and re-elected Second Vice President Erwin Louisy, the proprietor of Barefoot Holidays St. Lucia.