In the East Caribbean, the island of St. Lucia recorded its best performance ever in visitor arrivals for 2018, welcoming more than 1.2 million tourists, a 10 percent increase over 2017, which was itself a record-setting year. As they say in the West Indies, this 238-square-mile island is "cooking with gas," as it continues its breakneck pace toward tourism dominance.
At a news conference this week, the island's tourism minister, Dominic Fedee, highlighted some strategic steps St. Lucia is taking to position itself as a leading global incentive destination. "We have a very small tourism-marketing budget, around US$13 million, so we have to ensure that our efforts are targeted," he noted. "We want to select areas where we can reach the most visitors with the highest net worth," which, he pointed out, includes the Northeastern U.S., a market that generated a 4.1 percent increase in visitors in 2018, year-over-year.
Increased airlift is helping: American Airlines added daily nonstop flights to the island from Miami for the winter months, beginning this past Dec. 20. St. Lucia also continues to welcome new hotel product. Last March, the 115-room Harbor Club (pictured) opened in the greater Rodney Bay area with five dining options and 7,000 square feet of meeting and event space. That same month, Sandals Hotels & Resorts broke ground on the 330-suite Sandals LaSource Saint Lucia, its fourth property on the island.
Several other luxury developments in the pipeine, which are all scheduled to open by year-end 2020, will only up the ante further for St. Lucia in the incentive market as major chains move in to plant flags. For example, speaking at a media event in December, prime minister Allen Chastanet said the island had inked a deal for a 400-room Hyatt-branded hotel to be developed on Choc Beach on the island's northwest coast.
Also preparing to set up shop is the 120-room Fairmont St. Lucia, a US$220 million project on the southwest coast of the island, on track to open in early 2020. The property will include 40 residential villas, a 9,000-square-foot full-service spa, four restaurants, a private marina and 10,000 square feet of meeting space.
In addition, a 180-room Ritz-Carlton will anchor a new development that will be built near Hewanorra International Airport and the Pitons twin volcanoes -- a UNESCO World Heritage Site. And Newton Square, Pa.-based AMResorts, whose portfolio of six resort chains includes Dreams Resorts & Spas, has signed a deal to build two luxury all-inclusive resorts on the island, part of a planned resort and residential community that will include an 18-hole Nicklaus Design golf course and club.