SLASPA – Two For the Price of One. Interview with Mr Daren Cenac.
We talk with the Saint Lucia Air and Sea Ports Authority about how its unique status allows it to rejuvenate the island’s air and sea ports.
The Saint Lucia Air and Sea Ports Authority, or SLASPA, was established by an Act of Parliament in 1983, merging the St Lucia Ports Authority and the Airports Division of the Ministry of Communications and Works.
The Authority is responsible for running the island’s principal seaports, Castries and Vieux Fort, as well as the island’s two airports, George FL Charles and Hewanorra International Airports. SLASPA also has regulatory oversight of the country’s other points of entry: Soufriere, Marigot and Rodney Bay Marina.
By having all of these ports, both air and sea, operated by one Authority, has allowed Saint Lucia to establish a unique position to provide avenues to generate initiatives that maximizes the assets held in its name through efficiencies that would be impossible otherwise.
“We’re unique in that not many air and sea ports are managed under one Authority,” explains Daren Cenac, the Acting General Manager for SLASPA. “In different parts of world the airports and seaports authorities are managed separately, either privately or government owned. SLASPA’s uniqueness lies in being able to have efficiencies in its management structures and operations by merging those two organisations under one umbrella.”
In 1994, just over a decade after the organisation was founded, SLASPA’s portfolio was expanded by Shipping Act No. 11, which gave them a mandate to establish and house a Maritime Affairs Unit dedicated to licensing ships and taking care of matters relating to the safety of crew at sea. Ever since, SLASPA has taken seriously its responsibility to ensure the highest quality of services at its air and sea gateways, and today they continue to seek ways to enhance Saint Lucia’s infrastructure and human resources to meet the demands of today, and tomorrow.
As the nineties continued SLASPA further extended their operations with the construction of La Place Carenage, a fully air-conditioned, duty free shopping mall that featured a mix of shopping, dining and entertaininment overlooking the Queen Elizabeth II Dock and the Castries Waterfront. The facility was further expanded in 2004.
SLASPA have also been recognised for the fantastic success of their “CIP” (Commercially Important Persons) Lounge at Hewanorra International Aiport. The lounge is open to First and Business Class passengers as well as members and walk-in patrons who pay at the door. Further projects SLASPA has engaged in include the construction of a Ferry Terminal to cater to Saint Lucia’s growing influx of passengers from Martinique, which also includes banking and restaurant facilities.
The organisation is event responsible for Saint Lucia’s lighthouses! Specifically the Moule A Chique and Vigie Lighthouses. The Vigie Lighthouse boasts a 360 degree view of the north side of the Island and its surroundings, while Moule A Chique is reported to be the second highest lighthouse in the world.
SLASPA also works closely with the St Lucia Tourist Board and the St Lucia Hotel and Tourism Association to mount effective marketing campaigns for the island of St. Lucia.
All of these functions are run from SLASPA’s modern headquarters in Castries, managed by a well-qualified team led by a General Manager who reports to a Government-appointed Council. Its mandate is defined as the provision of coordinated and integrated systems of airports and seaports.
Having this wide range of services and locations operating under one umbrella has a number of benefits. The most outstanding is that the arrangement has contributed to the reduction in redundancy across the island’s transport infrastructure.
“For example, with separate Authorities, there would be an engineering service for each one as well as a separate administrative service, information system services, and more; but all these services are shared between the airport and the seaports under one Authority,” Cenac points out. “It’s about optimizing your resources.”
Of course, managing the island’s air and seaports together brings its own challenges. For instance, like many airports around the world, Saint Lucia’s air terminals are badly in need of rejuvenation.
“The challenge that we currently face is that of ageing infrastructure,” Cenac admits. “When most of our airports were built majority of the work were accomplished with grant funding from international agencies committed to modernisation. That would have been in the 70s and 80s. Right now it’s very different. The challenge we have is that with a lot of our infrastructure on the airport and seaport side of the business we have to make strategic business decisions and solutions to allow us to modernise the facilities.”
Part of the process involves the ever-present digital and automation revolutions.
“Our airports will now have a suite of automation, to allow processes to be faster and more efficient,” he says. “At the end of the day, you want to improve the customer experience through your facility especially at an international airport, therefore, we are pursuing high quality standards. Our intrinsic mandate is to raise our airport facility in ways our current design does not permit; by using IT and digitisation to create a better customer experience.”
The Human Element
At present, SLASPA is far from the only airport Authority to be engaged in a large-scale structural overhaul, however, Cenac is also aware that the job goes beyond just simply acquiring new equipment and the redevelopment of facilities; the human element is also very important.
“We also need the ensure that the human capital is fully equipped to handle the new and modern technologies because as you modernise infrastructure human capital has to be brought alongside that,” he tells us.
Indeed, Cenac understands that it’s the human capital that will give Saint Lucia a competitive advantage.
“To ensure that we are not just maintaining but building on our competitive advantage we explore new opportunities and challenges, investing in our infrastructure and human capital to take advantage of those new opportunities,” he says. “We didn’t just focus on our physical infrastructure. We restructured our Human Resources department and with our operational plan and new strategic direction we’ve taken a very strategic approach at human resource management within the organisation. You need to ensure that not just the right number of people are employed but the right people, now and for the future. Also, you need to take into account their skill sets, gap analysis, training interventions on both the air side and land side.”
The way SLASPA works, their Human Resource isn’t just concerned with ensuring new talent is injected into the organisation, but also making sure that knowledge isn’t lost when the older generation retire.
“We are developing a succession plan comprehensive throughout the organisation.” Cenac says. “Performance management is a key factor in improving productivity within the organisation. It’s a new strategic look at how we manage our human capital within the organisation. Something we started recently and are now going to springboard from a human resources point of view.”
The Economic Cornerstone
Cenac is passionate about this investment because of the critical role Saint Lucia’s air and seaports play in the fortunes of the country as a whole.
It’s hard to overstate just how valuable SLASPA is to the Saint Lucia economy, not the mention international businesses that trade with and through the island. SLASPA’s work involves handling roughly 600,000 tonnes of cargo and helping over 800,000 passengers get to their destination every years. 400,000 aircraft land safely under SLASPA’s careful watch, as do over 1,000 seagoing vessels.
To put it another way – in Saint Lucia every item of clothes anyone wears, any vehicle anyone drives, anything anyone eats, either arrived in the country through one of SLASPA’s ports, or was manufactured in a local factory that used raw materials or machinery that did. By the same token, SLASPA is critical to Saint Lucia’s export market, with those same ports providing a gateway for locally produced goods to international markets.
Given the significance of their role, SLASPA believes strongly in heavily investing in service delivery, something they have done consistently for the last few years to ensure their ports of entry are well managed and up to date. These investments include improving technology to provide operational efficiencies, acquiring extra cargo handling equipment to build capacity, reconfiguring their cargo shed to improve delivery speeds, and upgrading their facilities for passengers at airports and ferry terminals alike to ensure people coming to the island for business or pleasure are met with comfort. They have also launched a port education campaign with the goal of empowering customers and the wider public alike about Saint Lucia’s ports.
“SLASPA is a significant contributor and probably has the greatest influence on the economy,” Cenac says. “You need to accommodate increasing traffic, so we have a pivotal role in the macro-economic development of our country because of its importance, impact and reach.”
For Cenac, the redevelopment and modernisation of SLASPA’s facilities will be an ongoing process, taking the island to a better future as it facilitates the ever-increasing demand of goods and services.
“Many of our airline partners are looking forward to this Hewanorra International Airport redevelopment,” he says. “We’re really looking forward to this project starting and finishing because of the many business opportunities that will be borne out of it.”
The most recently of these developments came recently with ground-breaking ceremony for the construction of a new Fixed Based Operation at Hewanorra Airport. The new facility will offer premium services for private and corporate aircraft using the airport. Over the next six months SLASPA will be working closely alongside the I.A.M Jet Centre Group, a Caribbean aviation services provider, to implement the new project. The project, when completed, will consist of a 7,000 square foot terminal with its own dedicated in-house customers and immigration processes, premium lounge spaces, a meeting room, crew rest area and security screenings.
The crucial role SLASPA plays in the island’s economy, and the great work they are doing to leverage and improve upon that for the benefit of the entire country, have been recognised at the very highest levels. The project has even drawn the attention of Saint Lucia’s Prime Minister, Allen Chastanet, who expressed his admiration and support for the development. Chastanet has saidly publically that, “This project is particularly special, as it was initially conceived back in early 2007 when I was then Minister for Tourism with the support of then Prime Minister and father of the nation the late Sir John Compton.”
The Prime Minister also added that “I want to thank the Management and staff of SLASPA for the commitment and hard work which they put in to finally get this project going and also to the team from I.A.M Jet Centre Group for having the confidence to invest Saint Lucia.”
For Cenac, however, it’s not about the official recognition or the plaudits as it is about making sure the Saint Lucia’s airports and ports are ready and able to keep up with a rapidly developing modern world. It is a mission that he takes extremely seriously, and when he talks to use he stresses the importance of what SLASPA is trying to do.
“Beyond the current plans we have to do something with the seaport. We will not be able to continue the status quo,” Cenac says. “We want the human capital to become more efficient and meet the needs of passengers. Currently, we are undergoing a strategic review. We want to complete the exercise for the new strategic direction for SLASPA. Our intention is to ensure that the operational plan is fully integrated and will provide a new vision, new core values and a new way forward. It’s an interesting exercise, which we look forward to accomplishing.”
If what the Saint Lucia Air and Sea Port Authority has achieved so far is anything to go by, we expect to see great thing from them in the future.