Q: What is your vision for the economic development of Saint Lucia and what are your most immediate priorities economically?
A: First of all, we have divided Saint Lucia into four economic zones. We have the northern part of the island, which is a place called Gros Islet in Rodney Bay; the capital city, Castries; the historic town of Soufriere; and then the southern part of the island, called Vieux Fort. So now we’ve created four economic councils, each one focusing on a specific development plan for each of those areas.
Rodney Bay Gros Islet is a mixed-use development, with hotels, apartments and villas, a marina, golf courses and fabulous beaches. The idea behind Castries is to make it into a financial administrative hub for the Caribbean region. The theme for Soufriere is to become the 'Eden' of the Caribbean and to build on the immense success it already has: the development of the waterfront and the downtown area to complement the existing hotels that we have there. We’re hoping that we will be able to attract at least two to three additional international brands for boutique hotels. The last one is the area of Vieux Fort, which has more than 4000 hectares of flat land, a deep-water harbour and an international airport. The government has a lot of land in that area, so we’re looking to develop public-private partnerships.
We’re looking to develop the international airport and as well as adding a port facility, with a cruise ship terminal.
[Another initiative] is to drive the agricultural sector. We’re looking to have a rebound in our banana industry and we are also looking to develop cocoa [production]. Saint Lucia is one of the top producers in terms of the best-quality cocoa, and the price continues to rise.
The other part of what we’re trying to do is balance our books and bring some fiscal prudence back to St Lucia. We have entered into the Citizenship by Investment Programme and we are going to create a sovereign fund. So the funds that we get from the new citizens will now be put into that sovereign fund, to use either for capital investment or for debt repayment, and only the amount of money that the sovereign fund earns will be allowed to come back into any form of recurrent revenue.
We are revamping our education system, and have got some very ambitious plans in terms of green energy – so there is a huge amount of work to undertake in a lot of very different areas. But those are the fundamentals of what we’re going to try to achieve over the next 10 years.
Q: There has been an economic downturn in Latin America and the Caribbean recently. How has St Lucia been affected, and how can you counteract it?
A: We have seen a significant amount of growth in the tourism sector, particularly in revenue. In 2006, we had $750m in earnings from tourism; by 2011 we were at $1.5bn, and today we’re at $2bn. So that's almost a 300% increase in revenue.
What we want to do is to continue that trend. We are looking at the overall infrastructure – airports, seaports, roads, water and electricity – and at the number of rooms we have. We have only 3500 hotel rooms, and believe we must reach at least 7000 rooms within five years.
The focus right now is to be able to expand our capacity and to continue to grow with a very singular focus – one, on the premium market, and two, on authenticity.
This is not going to be a Cancún or Miami Beach. This is truly a Caribbean destination, with foreign investment coming in to give it a higher quality. But it’s not going to be isolated; it’s a fully integrated product that we’re looking to be able to develop.