by Kevon Browne
St. Kitts and Nevis (WINN) – In her first press conference since becoming the Minister responsible for Tourism, International Transport, Civil Aviation, urban development, Employment and Labour, the Hon. Marsha Henderson presented the general public with an update on the state of the Tourism Industry in the Federation.
The key approach to staying competitive is to diversify the tourism product and the services offered.
“The diversification of our experiences will require intense collaboration with our local sectors, such as agriculture and sports. We cannot look at our product offerings the same way we did two years ago. Our visitors want to see and feel an authentic St. Kitts where they can engage with us and not simply be observers,” said the Tourism Minister during the September 8 press conference.
CEO of the St. Kitts Tourism Authority (SKTA), Ellison “Tommy” Thompson, said that internal discussions are being had about what the SKTA, in conjunction with the Private sector can do, to help diversify the tourism product to include the authentic Kittitian experience.
The CEO explained further what innovation means regarding diversifying the tourism product.
“I think this is where we want to concentrate on how we can put together a program or an experience where that comes to life; and that also brings in the aspects of community-based tourism, where we able then to get the community involved in what we’re doing. The idea is for us to generate new experiences, but also to make sure that the wealth from tourism is generated through the economy and to the more rural areas in terms of that.”
Reinvestment in the tourism product is necessary to be competitive in the market. A new marketing campaign for the destination will be launched in New York shortly, according to Minister Henderson during her remarks at the press conference.
While the travel demand has increased in the market following the removal of travel restrictions brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, the Minister admitted that St. Kitts struggled to compete in the global market because the travel restrictions put in place to curb the impact of the pandemic on the country.
Now that the restrictions have been lifted, the authority has indicated a renewed interest in the destination.
What has changed since the lifting of the restrictions?
The Minister confirmed that for the 2022-2023 winter season, all the legacy carriers, American Airlines, Delta, United, Air Canada, British Airways and Seaborne, will have airlift to the Federation. The Ministry will continue its attempts to bring new carriers to St. Kitts and Nevis.
“Ultimately, our goal is to increase airlift service to our destination. My team and I remain in constant dialogue with our airline partners, and next month, we will be engaging the stakeholders in the airline industry at the World Roots Conference to be held in Las Vegas during the period 16 to 18 October. During this conference, we intend to discuss solutions for our airlift challenges with the decision makers of our international legacy carriers and continue discussions with potential new carriers.”
Regarding the cruise sector, Minister Henderson predicted the 2022-2023 cruise season would draw closer to pre-pandemic levels.
“We have a projected eight inaugural calls for the upcoming season with Wander of the Seas, Royal Caribbean’s newest vessel calling on Thursday 24th November 2022. We will certainly be looking forward to this call, and we’ll be enlisting the help of the public to give our visitors a warm Kittitian welcome. Recent reports have indicated that all cruise visitors are satisfied with Kittitian experiences. However, if we are to remain competitive and attract new visitors, we must be creative and develop more diverse and immersive products and services. For the upcoming 2022 and 2023 cruise season, we anticipated that we will double the arrivals of the previous season and begin to draw closer to pre-pandemic levels.”
While the outlook for the 2022-2023 season seems favourable, the Minister said that industry stakeholders must not let the projections create a false sense of security as the destination must compete with many in the market ‘clamouring for their piece of the pie” and proposed questions for the people within the industry to consider.
“The questions before us are; how can we be heard in the noise of the marketplace? How do we differentiate? How do we create a perception of value? How do we increase spend and economic impacts.”
The Minister suggested innovation, diversification, infrastructure investment and thinking outside the box.
“We must guard ourselves from offering a stale product. We must draw on our history and culture and present to our visitors an authentic Kittitian experience. These are what visitors want; let me say this is what the visitor is demanding. We must safeguard our industry against the mediocrity and those who would seek to destroy it.”