Tourism officials from Saint Lucia were all smiles at a media luncheon at Harriet's Rooftop at Toronto's 1 Hotel on Tuesday (June 13) – and for good reasons.
The lush, Eastern Caribbean island – known for its volcanic (and iconic) Pitons, reef-diving sites, mud baths, luxury resorts, fishing villages, waterfalls and rainforests – is kick-starting summer (and gearing up for winter) with a strong lift offering.
This summer, Air Canada will operate three times a week direct non-stop service from Toronto Pearson (YYZ) to Saint Lucia’s Hewanorra International Airport (UVF) on Sunday, Wednesday, and Friday.
WestJet also offers direct non-stop flights from YYZ to UVF once a week on Sundays.
But things will ramp up this winter as Air Canada, with all its connecting gateways, will offer daily non-stop flights from Toronto to Saint Lucia, seven days a week, while WestJet – and here’s the big news – has committed to three flights per week, which is reflective of 2018 levels.
“We’re very excited about this because it really puts us ahead. It gives clients what they want. The options are there,” Lorine Charles-St. Jules, CEO of the Saint Lucia Tourism Authority (SLTA), told PAX yesterday. “You arrive in Saint Lucia by two o’clock and by 2:15, you can be on the beach.”
Saint Lucia has invested in a more seamless experience for visitors with the introduction of an online Embarkation/Disembarkation (ED) form that allows for the electronic processing of travellers, via QR code.
The ED Form, which launched March 1, aligns with initiatives by the Government of Saint Lucia towards a digital conversion of public sector services.
It replaces a written form, providing real-time information to Immigration, Customs, and Port Health, reducing the processing time of arriving passengers.
Enhancing the passenger experience is a reoccurring theme in Saint Lucia.
The “Iyanola Lounge” at Hewanorra airport, for example, was recently remodelled to accommodate upwards of 102 guests, with new facilities to provide maximum comfort.
“Travel agents can upsell this to clients who are heading back to Toronto,” Charles-St. Jules noted. “It’s a place where you can really relax.”
Big recovery from Canada
Saint Lucia’s sales mission in Toronto this week, which included meetings with airline partners and an event for travel advisors on Monday night (June 12), was held to reaffirm the destination’s commitment to Canada.
And to help communicate that message, the nation’s highest levels of government have been involved.
Yesterday’s guests of honour included Henry Mangal, consul general of Saint Lucia to Canada in Toronto, and Dr. Ernest Hilaire, Saint Lucia’s Deputy Prime Minister & Minister of Tourism, Investment, Creative Industries, Culture & Information.
Meeting Toronto’s travel community was particularly special for Dr. Hilaire as the week marked his first sales mission in Canada since taking on his current roles.
“Canada was one of the last markets to really open up. But since it has opened, the numbers have been phenomenal,” Dr. Hilaire said at yesterday’s media lunch, which included punchy cocktails made with Chairman's Reserve, a famous rum that’s produced in Saint Lucia.
In 2019, Saint Lucia saw its best year in terms of tourism arrivals, and already, for the first quarter of 2023, the destination is at 80 per cent of that record-setting year, “which is outstanding,” Dr. Hilaire said.
As well, for the month of April alone, numbers from Canada are up to 97 per cent of April 2019.
“That tells you we are getting closer and closer to our best year ever for arrivals, , from Canada,” Dr. Hilaire said.
And with all of that lift out of Toronto: “We know we're going to pass those numbers very soon,” he said.
The local touch
Saint Lucia has nearly 160 kilometres of coastline and pristine beaches, and the destination is set up for all types of travellers, from active explorers to those who seek rest and relaxation.
There are renovated facilities at Hummingbird Beach in Soufriere and expanded mud baths in Sulphur Springs Park (the most Instagrammed spot in Saint Lucia).
Visitors may want to cool off at Toraille Falls, take in 360-degree views of the island and the signature Pitons from Tet Paul Nature Trail, or snorkel or dive at two dozen marine-rich dive sites.
Dr. Hilaire said the biggest shift on the island, coming of the pandemic, is a commitment to providing visitors with authentic, community-based experiences.
“We've always had them, but there's now a greater emphasis on it,” Dr. Hilaire told PAX, later telling the crowd that it’s locals who ultimately make visits to Saint Lucia memorable.
In the last few years, Saint Lucia has opened new attractions that take visitors out of resorts and into communities.
There’s a new chocolate-making experience at Cacoa Sainte Lucie in Belvedere, for example. It has a restaurant that serves chocolate-infused food.
There’s a newly-launched Bamboo River Rafting excursion in Roseau – the first of its kind for the island – where guests can glide down a river and connect with nature.
Saint Lucia has also launched an island-wide program called the Kabawé Krawl (Kabawé means “Rum Shop”).
This invites visitors to enjoy a trail of bars, experience the island’s hospitality and maybe even swap stories with locals along the way.
The Saint Lucia Rum experience, meanwhile, is getting a multi-million-dollar expansion and the island has opened its third golf course, the 18-hole Point Hardy Golf Club, which has more than 2.5 kilometres of coastline.
Carnivals & festivals
There’s also something to be said about Saint Lucia’s festival and carnival scene.
After a three-year hiatus, the Saint Lucia Jazz and Arts Festival returned in May, showcasing Grammy Award winners Sting and Shaggy, along with a line-up of world-renowned musicians, artists, and performers.
What was distinct about this year’s festival, Dr. Hilaire said, was the involvement of communities across the island who created their own fringe events, making it a national affair.
“We expect for that to grow even further next year,” he said.
With the jazz festival now wrapped, the island’s summer Carnival events have now begun. From parades to parties, click here to view the schedule, which runs through June, into July.
Summer in Saint Lucia, by the way, is full of discounts and value-added deals.
As previously reported, the Discover Summer Saint Lucia Style web page here outlines discounts available at participating properties, from inns and boutiques to bed and breakfasts to luxury resorts, catering to families, couples, honeymooners, wellness enthusiasts and more.
Saint Luca restaurant week is July 1 -15 and then, in August, it will be Emancipation Month, which recognized the abolition of slavery in 1834, and a variety cultural events will take place.
October will then see Creole Heritage Month, which celebrates Saint Lucia’s French Creole Heritage through events that showcase music, dance, cuisine, art and other cultural expressions.
“In every instance, you will notice a greater involvement of communities organizing events that bring in visitors to share in those authentic experiences,” Dr. Hilaire told PAX.
This, he said, is what keeps tourism in Saint Lucia sustainable.
“The more people that can earn a living from tourism, the more communities can showcase their authentic self,” he said. “We believe tourism becomes more sustainable when it is rooted in that approach.”
On the hotel front, there’s Saint Lucia’s relatively new “Collection de Pépites,” which features “one-of-a-kind island jewels,” including local B&Bs, boutiques, inns and luxury villas.
There’s the new all-suite Zoëtry Marigot Bay, which unbolted its doors last year, and a new Secrets St. Lucia Resort & Spa is slated to open this winter.
The adults-only, boutique SoCo House recently opened in Rodney Bay, and a Marriott Courtyard at Pointe Seraphine is completing construction.
Sandals Halcyon Beach Resort and Sandals Regency La Toc have expanded their suite offerings, and a luxurious Grand Hyatt hotel in Sabwisha, Choiseul is also about to start construction.
Windjammer Landing Villa Resort has also undergone a multi-million dollar renovation.
“I can tell you, in the next year or two, you will see a dramatic increase in the offerings we have,” Dr. Hilaire said.
The destination’s groups and MICE market is also taking off, the team said.
Become an expert
Travel advisors can become authorities in Saint Lucia, and earn rewards, by joining The Saint Lucia Travel Agent Expert (SLEx) Program. (Click here for details).
The tourism authority honours its top producers at its “Global Piton Awards,” which, this year, will take place at the end of September.
This year, notably, will feature the first-ever “Prime Minister’s Award,” which will go to Saint Lucia’s top-producing advisor, globally.
“We call it our local Oscars or Grammys,” Charles-St. Jules said of the event, which doubles as an incentive trip.
She noted that most of Saint Lucia’s business comes from the trade.
“We believe in trade relationships…travel agents really represent a customer,” she said. “They are an extension of our brand in Canada, and that's why we invest in them.”
“Our goal is to invest in them more.”