|Villas of Windjammer Landing on a hillside in St. Lucia. Photo by Rudy Maxa.
Advice to tourism offices everywhere: Want to instantly boost arrivals to your destination by 20 percent and increase traffic to your website by 3,000 percent? Just do what the lush, tiny West Indies island of St. Lucia did and convince the producers of The Bachelor to film two climatic episodes of its show on your turf.
Of course, it helps if your turf includes lots of beaches, a couple of iconic peaks, a rain forest and warm, sunny weather year-round. Truth be told, St. Lucia didn’t need The Bachelor to put it on the map; it was already a favorite honeymoon destination served with nonstop flights from major East Coast cities such as New York, Atlanta and Miami.
I checked into one of St. Lucia’s best-known resorts last week, Windjammer Landing. This couples and family resort has Mediterranean-style villas that spill down a hillside of palm trees and bougainvillea to meet a crescent beach on a calm bay. By the time I checked out five nights later, I knew I’d found one of the secrets to St. Lucia’s success—and it had nothing to do with fiery sunsets or azure waters.
It’s the Lucians themselves, a people sprung from a turbulent history of French and British rule and the slave trade. (The island changed hands between England and France an impressive 14 times from the late 1600s to the early 1800s).
England ruled the island until St. Lucia gained independence in 1979. Today many Lucians speak both English and French. In fact, streets, towns and family names are often French. It’s a crazy combination perfectly distilled in the name of the country’s director of tourism, Louis Lewis. His parents wanted to cover both an English and French heritage, but when I met him, I couldn’t help thinking of Nicely-Nicely from Guys and Dolls or Major Major from Catch-22.
Anyway, unlike some other Caribbean islands I’m too polite to name, Lucians—and not just those at Windjammer Landing—are unfailingly polite, good humored and gentle. Sure, they have their problems—48 murders in a year is high for a place with a population of only 160,000. Although, this is not a place where visitors feel unsafe.
St. Lucia’s special charm, besides its topography and weather, is its people. Their sense of service, pride and kindness is so genuine, and it’s reflected in unusual ways. Generally, the island is not in the path of Caribbean hurricanes, but late last October, it got unlucky. Hurricane Tomas hit St. Lucia and lingered over it, dumping huge quantities of water. Mudslides claimed lives, and flooding destroyed bridges, cars and homes.
American, British and Canadian owners of homes and condos at Windjammer Landing immediately called the resort’s new managing director, Mark Ozawa, to ask about favorite staffers. Along with the Canadian company that owns the resort, seasonal visitors put together a $200,000 fund to assist employees in distress. One vacation homeowner even paid for the rebuilding of the home of a resort staffer who regularly checked his mini-bar. The homeowner also made sure the staffer’s home was stocked with groceries.
How many times have you heard of customer loyalty like that? It reflects not only the kindness of vacationers but also the warmth and affection a resort staff engenders. Those qualities that can’t be measured by Michelin stars or AAA diamonds.
A footnote: The day before I left, there was a marriage at Windjammer Landing. Bev Goldberg and Dr. Haviland Flickinger—both of Pennsylvania and frequent guests to the resort—exchanged vows on the beach at sunset. She is 79, he’s a couple of years older, and their union offered proof far beyond The Bachelor of the possibilities of love.