Travel Talk: Dr Ernest Hilaire, Saint Lucia’s Minister of Tourism

We speak to Dr Ernest Hilaire, the Minister of Tourism for Saint Lucia, about prioritising sustainable and community tourism, as well as the role the island's cultural heritage is playing in enticing travellers

Q: What sets Saint Lucia apart from other Caribbean islands?

A: Saint Lucia is unique and distinct because of the balance we offer. We don’t have the most beaches or the best beaches, but no other island has as many mountains, rivers, waterfalls and adventure offerings as we do.

The role that our cultural heritage is playing in our tourism products is bigger than ever. When you combine all three experiences: the cultural heritage, the physical setting and the hotel experience, no other island does it like Saint Lucia.

There’s a reason why we remain the leading destination for honeymoons. It’s that balance enticing you to return again and again.

Q: What are your key messages to the trade at the moment?

A: We are continuing to communicate that Saint Lucia is fully open and has rebounded from Covid. We certainly learnt a lot from the experience of Covid.

The current government came into power in July 2021, placing a priority of sustainable tourism. For us, that means ensuring that we pay attention to the economic, cultural and environmental sustainability of the tourism industry. At the forefront of our tourism development is an emphasis on sustainability.

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The iconic Piton mountains in Saint Lucia

Q: Can you tell us a bit more about Saint Lucia’s tourism recovery post-Covid?

A: Last year we regained 84% of the 2019 arrivals, which was the best July year to date. We’re now up to 90% and anticipating a very strong winter 2024. A key priority is emphasising community tourism and the culture of Saint Lucia as a prime selling point.

We recently won three awards at the World Travel Awards: the Caribbean’s Leading Honeymoon Destination (although not for the first time); the Caribbean’s Leading Adventure Destination and the Caribbean’s Leading Nature Destination. The latter awards highlight the importance of Saint Lucia’s environment and nature offerings, which we are currently elevating.

The goal is for Saint Lucia to be seen as a destination where there’s a distinct shift from resort-based experiences to community-based experiences. We want to compliment what we offer in our communities. This means highlighting diving, hiking, bird-watching and culture. It is important for us to present the island as a diversified product.

Q: How are the island’s visitor numbers?

A: We’re very encouraged by what we see. There were some challenges during the summer in terms of airline equipment issues and the availability of planes, but we are predicting a return to normal from the winter into next year. Regional travel is still a major concern for us because of the lack of connectivity. Even so, arrivals from the US, the UK and Canada have been really strong. The UK has been a little challenging because of inflation, but we’ve already been seeing signs that it’s going to be a very good winter.

All in all, we’re looking forward to next year.