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St Lucia scoops top eco-tourism prize
by Molly McDaniel
September - The Star

     News of the prestigious prize, which is co-sponsored by the Caribbean Tourism Organisation and American Airlines/American Eagle, came in the September/October issue of the magazine which featured a six-page spread on St Lucia and a stunning cover photograph of the Petit Piton.
     Photographs of Fond Doux Estate, Latisab Creole Park, and Latille Falls also feature in the magazine.
     As the award winner, the St Lucia Heritage Tourism Programme will receive a cheque for US$1,000 and a commemorative plaque at the CTO conference in Barbados next month.
     Writing in the latest issue of the internationally recognised Islands Magazine, editor in chief Joan Tapper described the St Lucia programme as one which is "redefining St Lucia's tourism."
     The magazine reports that in 1998, realising the benefits of tourism were not extending across the island, St Lucia's government began its Heritage Tourism Programme, which promotes community involvement, protection of the island's resources, opportunities for local businesses and workers, and improvement of the national image. And that, says Tapper of the winning project, "covers about everything."
     "For the visitor," she adds, "the result is a wonderful variety of experiences that will be available for years to come."
     Heritage Tourism Programme coordinator in the Ministry of Tourism, Felix Finisterre, said he was "delighted" about winning the award and that e-mail inquiries had "quadrupled" since the publication of the September/October issue of the magazine.
     Mr Finisterre said he had first heard of the programme's success in June when the magazine sent a photographer to the island to shoot pictures for the spread.
     "We were sworn to secrecy and had no idea the magazine would be announcing the award winner's in this issue. We thought it would all be announced in Barbados next month," he said.
     This could explain why a number of prominent tourism officials here knew nothing of the award.
     "We are not really in the business of marketing and we did not really take much notice of the award at the time. The minister was told, but we didn't really trumpet about our success," Mr Finisterre said.
     The programme coordinator hopes the award will assist in efforts to gain further funding for the Heritage Tourism Programme from donor agencies such as the British Department for International Development, the European Union and the World Bank as a pro-poor tourism initiative.
     The St Lucia Heritage Tourism Programme is a three year programme now nearing the end of its second year. Mr Finisterre said the ministry was already looking for a successor programme which would mirror the aims of the original in spreading the benefits of tourism to the wider community while at the same time ensuring environmental sustainability.