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Tourism Officials on expansion of tourism reach; combatting over-reliance on traditional source markets for SKN

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by Kevon Browne

St. Kitts and Nevis (WINN) – Tourism officials in St. Kitts are continuing to rebuild the sector and are focusing on sustainable growth.

A new CEO and a Deputy CEO have been appointed with renewed efforts to engage the industry and put St. Kitts on the market as a desirable destination for key source markets, the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom.

Minister of Tourism Transport and Ports, the Hon Lindsay Grant, reported on the flight schedule for the spring-summer season in St. Kitts.

“American Airlines during the period of April to September 2022 will have daily flights from April 9 to August 13, 2022, with two flights on Saturdays. Charlotte, which is a seasonal flight, will end April 2, 2022, and will resume on June 4 and end on August 13, 2022. Delta will be Saturday only out of Atlanta, now to September 3. United Airlines on Saturday, out of  Newark; and it is important to note that while the American Airlines JFK schedule ends on April 2, Newark continues to the end of April, providing a much needed Easter airlift to our largest source market in the US. The following British Airways schedule is up to the period ending October 22, 2022; The flight continues Thursdays and Saturdays through March 24. This flight will then change its schedule to Wednesdays and Saturdays from March 30 through October 2022.”

Air Canada, which has seen some difficulty returning to the Federation because of strict travel protocol from the Canadian government, will be returning for their weekly flight in November 2022.

Initially, the return would have been in Spring 2022. However, Minister Grant said that operational issues are preventing that return, and as such, the airline will return later this year.

Although an unfortunate development in the return of Air Canada, Minister Grant reported that it does not mean that there will be no Canadian arrivals. He said 60 percent of the Canadian tourists bound for St. Kitts and Nevis are out of the US.

After April, tourism slows down in the region. While it is expected that the return of the St. Kitts Music Festival, one of our marquee summer events, would help bring traffic to the Federation, Minister Grant is managing expectations related to arrival numbers.

“I’m not expecting; I’m being very cautious. I’m not expecting a bumper Music Festival as it did in 2019 when we had Buju Banton here; I don’t expect that; that was the peak. What I expect is that we start to rebuild back better in terms of Music Festival. We are going to announce the artists very shortly in terms of the lineup, and we are going to start the marketing campaign in a fierce way.”

While the Minister does not see a huge injection of traffic coming to St. Kitts with the return of the annual music festival, 2022 is the stepping stone for 2023 and future iterations of the three-day event.

“This Omicron Variant and the pandemic, on the whole, has really dealt us a blow. And so it’s like starting back from scratch again. What we can tell is there is going to be a Music Festival;  June 23 – 25, and we will ensure that we put all the elements in place to have a bigger and better 2023 St. Kitts Music Festival.”

What about other source markets?

“Prior to the pandemic, we were looking at the South American region because that was one of the fastest-growing regions, and we were looking at that. In fact, we were looking at that through Copa Airlines through Panama to see if there was interest in that area. Of course, the pandemic came, but this morning my discussion carried me there again; and my discussion was on South America, with Avianca Airlines and Copa Airlines coming out of Panama, Colombia and that area. So we have begun again the discussions to broaden it, because I believe yes, we need to expand the areas of engagement in terms of where our visitors [are] coming from; so that started again, and I hope it bears some fruit moving forward,” said Minister Grant.

Last week was the Routes Americas 2022 conference, where airlines, airports and destinations met and discussed air services.

Seventy airlines attended, including Air Canada, British Airways, United, Delta and American Airlines (some of the airlines that St. Kitts facilitates). Thirty-seven destinations were also in attendance, including 16 from the Caribbean Region, including St. Kitts.

Elison “Tommy” Thompson, CEO of the St. Kitts Tourism Authority, represented our island and said he met with nine airlines. 

Thompson said two things came out of his meetings with the airlines.

“A number of the airlines and Southwest in particular, who we spoke with, they’re looking at how they rebuild their domestic routes because what they’re finding is when they bring the aircraft down to St. Kitts, the aircraft is out for the entire day. They’re able to do a number of shorter hauls within the US, so that’s what they’re looking at as one of the options. I think we’ll also point out that Delta, for example, they’ve got the planes with no crew, American and United, they’ve got the crew with no planes because of delays in the aircraft being delivered to those airlines. But what we have seen is that American [Airlines] has agreed to give us daily service this summer into St. Kitts from Miami and then double daily on Saturdays. We are working very closely with United in order for them to bring the flight in earlier. And then we’re also looking at additional routes that they can look at doing for us. We also spoke with Nick Cannon about is again bringing in the flights a little earlier and seeing how long we can have the service last.”

Outside of our traditional markets, the SKTA CEO said that he also met with airlines regarding South America as another source market as part of the expansion plan for St. Kitts.

What about the regional market?

“Traditionally, the Caribbean is a very good market for St. Kitts, but we’re plagued by lack of airlift coming into the destination. At the moment, we’ve got LIAT; apparently, they’re only running on aircraft at the moment, so that’s not really helpful. But I’ve been having discussions with other carriers about the possibility of them adding St. Kitts into their itineraries. That is still in the early stages of negotiations, but I have a feeling that’s going to pay off,” said the CEO.

Thompson indicated that St. Kitts should not ignore where the money is coming from, and thus, as part of the SKTAs marketing plan, more investments will be made in the top two markets for St. Kitts.

“We see Miami as still a big gateway for us, but also New York, that’s the number one market for St. Kitts at this particular time. But [what] we have also done, in terms of the marketing plan, is to put more resources in the Origin-Destination (O-D) and primary markets. So what we’re looking at is where the business is coming from, that would be from the northeast, New York number one, Florida number two. So in terms of what we’ve done with the marketing plan is that we’ve readjusted the allocations of funds to have more emphasis on where we have the direct airlift and the easy one-stop lift into St. Kitts. That’s part of the strategy that we’re pursuing.”

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