In 1979, Saint Lucia counted less than 2000 hotel rooms, received fewer than 100 000 visitors annually (both by air and by sea) and earned just 30 million per year in visitor expenditure. Two decades later, the number of rooms, had doubled, arrivals soared to 630 000 and expenditure was estimated at 770 million. The upswing was primarily due to the arrival of all-inclusive resorts. The all-inclusive concept (in which guests pay for all aspects of their holiday in one lump sum before even setting foot on Saint Lucia soil) was initially accompanied by fears that it would undermine ordinary hotels and restaurants.
Cruise ship tourism also expanded phenomenally during this period. Thanks to the Government’s foresight in upgrading Port Castries, St Lucia did not miss out on the sector’s worldwide growth. Huge investments were made to create the Pointe Seraphine Complex, with berths built especially for cruise liners. It was a far cry from the days when cargo and passengers competed for space on the docks. Point Seraphine also took Saint Lucia into the era of shopping malls. Another success story was the Saint Lucia Jazz Festival, now widely acclaimed as one of the best in the world. First experimented with in 1992, the festival was intended to market the island abroad and cushion the effects of the traditionally quiet month of May.
It quickly grew in stature and magnitude, raising Saint Lucia’s profile as a holiday destination globally and introducing locals and visitors alike to some of the biggest entertainment artistes in the world.Nevertheless, before long, all-inclusives accounted for half of all the hotel rooms and by 1994, out of Saint Lucia’s twelve major hotels, eight were all-inclusive. It gave Saint Lucia the highest ratio of all-inclusive rooms in the entire Eastern Caribbean and the island was soon considered an all-inclusive holiday destination.
The advantages of all-inclusives were their high and continuous rates of occupancy, the demand for airlift they created and their marketing power- something which St. Lucia own meagre tourism budgets could never achieve. On the downside, were concerns about a lack of linkages with the local economy (particularly agriculture), the absence of non-menial employment opportunities for St. Lucians, and retention of profits overseas.