The annual Jazz Festival in St. Lucia is a great source of pride for its residents. For more than 28 years, the event has attracted visitors from around the world for events and concerts celebrating multiple forms of international, St. Lucian and Caribbean jazz music.
When the jazz festival began in 1992, St. Lucia’s economy was still dependent on agriculture, specifically bananas. As globalization began to alter tax operations, St. Lucia decided to move towards becoming a tourism destination.
“We did everything we could to put the infrastructure in place. We had the legislation ready, but we had one problem: No one knew where St. Lucia was. So, we started a jazz festival, and here we are. And it’s been a lot of passion, labor and joy,” said Hon. Dominic Fedee, St. Lucia’s minister of tourism, information and broadcasting, speaking at a media event this week in New York City.
This year’s event, from May 7-9, is being produced in collaboration with Jazz at Lincoln Center, continuing a two-year partnership, and returning to its jazz roots.
The festival will showcase artists spanning the Caribbean, the UK and the U.S., including: Chick Corea's Vigilette with Carlitos Del Puerto, Marcus Gilmore, Roy Hargrove Celebration with Willie Jones III featuring Renée Neufville, Alphonso Horne and The Gotham Kings, and Ruben Fox's London Brass featuring Theon Cross and Mark Kavuma.
The 2020 St. Lucia Jazz Festival will also feature “Artists in Education” initiatives, including master classes, professional development, and live performance collaborations with students from the Saint Lucia School of Music and local jazz artists.
Jazz kicks off St. Lucia’s Summer Festival, which then rolls into carnival celebrations in July. It culminates with a street parade on July 20-21, which brought in 5,000 people from the U.S. last year. Then, in October, is Creole Heritage month, celebrating St. Lucian music, food and the like. It ends with Saint Lucia Arts & Heritage and Creole Day on Oct. 23-25.
“Creole Heritage month is something we’re building and making it a part of our tourism aspect,” Hon. Fedee said.
While St. Lucia is well established as a leading honeymoon destination thanks to its idyllic scenery, events like the Jazz Festival are creating a different atmosphere for travelers who are looking for something more adventurous and immersive.
“We’re very proud of what is happening. We’re making sure we beef up the experiences, making sure when people come, they can do rafting, soca dance lessons, cocoa plantation tours and a rum distillery experience, where you get to learn how the sugar cane is cultivated and fermented.”
It’s all part of a comprehensive renewal of St. Lucia’s tourism product, the Hon. Fedee continued, so visitors can see St. Lucia’s authenticity and realness.
For the first time, St. Lucia recorded over 400,000 stayover arrivals in 2019. Americans contributed significantly to this growth, by 9.5% — and they are the most important visitors in terms of numbers and yields.
When combining hotel guests and cruise passengers, St. Lucia welcomed 1.2 million people last year. That represents a 5% growth in 2019, and the Hon. Fedee expects to top that this year.
Construction on two high-end resorts will begin: AMResorts’ brands Dreams and wellness-focused Zoëtry. Together, the two hotels will comprise 330 rooms. Also in the pipeline is a 780-room Hyatt hotel.
Over the next 7-10 years, the Hon. Fedee expects to have 3,000 hotel rooms being added to St. Lucia’s offerings, expanding the room stock significantly.
St. Lucia also signed an MOU with Carnival Cruise Line and Royal Caribbean to build the second largest cruise port on the island, in the south near the airport.
“This is to really buttress the homeport business, to make sure you can cruise and fly, St. Lucia style. We’re making sure the cruise port and the airport are part of the same complex,” he said.