STC – 2019. St Vincent & the Grenadines
St Vincent and the Grenadines is on a mission to take a bigger slice of the region’s tourism pie. But officials insist on developing community tourism to avoid making the same mistakes that either mature or developing destinations make.
Chief Executive Officer of the St Vincent and the Grenadines Tourism Association Glen Beache has suggested taking a sustainable approach to growing the tourism market in the Windward multi-island nation.
Currently welcoming roughly 89,000 visitors per year, St Vincent and the Grenadines plans to grow those numbers considerably, while avoiding a “mass tourism ranking”, the tourism executive said.
“St Vincent and the Grenadines is still new in terms of tourism and the good thing about being new is that we get to learn from the mistakes that some of our friends and neighbours have made in the industry.
He declared that St Vincent would not be caught up in trends but would focus on sustainability.
Without singling out anyone, Beache said: “Some of our neighbours have a problem in terms of the product and making sure it is reinventing itself.
“It is something we here are quite aware of and I want to make sure do not get to that stage.”
Speaking to Barbados TODAY ahead of the start of the 2019 Sustainability Tourism Conference here, he added: “I am not going to point out any country specifically, but sustainability is it.
“In the early days many of the destinations felt that the product would continue to last and there would be no change… (but) it continues to change. Every year a niche market comes up.
“I think a lot of times we get caught up so quickly with what’s the in-thing right now that we tend to forget what we went through in the past and not look to the future well enough.
“You have to find what your niche markets are and focus on it.”
Beache said St Vincent’s plans to carve out a niche in community tourism while ensuring preservation.
He said: “I think community tourism is something that is very big on our agenda to make sure the communities really feel the effect of the tourism dollar.”
While all-inclusive properties are being featured in the product mix, Beache said they were being encouraged to have “contracts with different communities” so that small businesses and individuals across the country could also reap the benefits.
Tourism officials were also encouraging visitors to buy environmentally friendly products, he added, saying this was “important to how we push the product that is St Vincent and the Grenadines”.
He continued: “It is not just about the quantity, but the quality most of all and making sure that not only visitors enjoy what we have to offer but also locals.
“For tourism to work, for you to really feel the effects of it, the communities have to benefit greatly and they have to feel a part of the product, which they are.
“If it is only the big players that benefit then it makes no sense.”
As the country moves to boost visitor arrivals with the commissioning of its first international airport, it expects to welcome two major hotel brands – the Marriott and Holiday Inn Express – within the next two years.
This should bring the room stock from the current 2,200 to about 3,300, he said.
Beache also disclosed that two other hotel groups were seeking to set up in St Vincent, one of them being a 250 room property from the Liberty Hotel Collection group.
“That is the way you control your tourism product in terms of your room stock,” Beache said. “Our ideal situation is if we could get anywhere between 3,500 to 4,000 rooms, that sets us up to where we want to be.”
He noted access to the mainland had improved considerably following the construction of the new airport at Argyll, on the island’s southeast coast.
Beache could not give specific arrival numbers from the various source markets, but said Barbados and Trinidad combined “actually competes with the UK and the US in terms of numbers” while the Canadian market was quickly growing.
He reported that cruise numbers were up about 6.6 per cent up to the end of July, when compared to the same period last year.
But, like officials in Barbados and other regional destinations, Beache said he was “not happy with visitor spend”.