Against the backdrop of the global economic meltdown particularly in the Tourism Industry, the tiny East Caribbean Island of St.Kitts has been successfully weathering the storm in comparison to its regional counterparts.
In his recent report to the National Assembly Chambers in Basseterre, Senator Richard “Ricky “Skerritt who has responsibility for Tourism, painted this positive outlook for the island’s Tourism Industry, which is the main engine of economic growth on St.Kitts.
Mr. Skerritt acknowledged that the just concluded 2009 winter season had its drawbacks with hotel occupancy and revenues down by 15 to 40 per cent at some properties but noted that rooms were filled through heavy discounting and value added promotions.
Generally speaking, the Senator said local hoteliers are staying optimistic that things will improve and are being encouraged to place strong emphasis on having a visible market presence and a vigorous staff- training program in these difficult times.
In an effort to assist the smaller properties on the historic 68 square mile island, Skerritt who also has responsibility for Culture and Sports said that his Ministry has initiated a new Small Hotels Incentive Package which provides cost relief and encourages hoteliers to uphold the highest standards of hospitality. This program has since been adopted by several other Caribbean destinations.
From a national point of view Mr. Skerritt confidently declared that “St.Kitts is well positioned to compete in today’s difficult economic environment due the decision taken in 2006 to shift the balance of our visitor target market, towards providing a high quality destination experience for a more sophisticated customer with greater spending power”.
He added that investors and developers of world class tourism products including Marriott’s Vacation Club and Christopher Harbor an ongoing multi-billion dollar project in the South Eastern Peninsula area of the island, have reinforced this positioning by their continued presence and confidence in St.Kitts. Skerritt warned that the “ global crisis means that we are now in a serious market share battle with every other destination vying for the same higher end of the market”.
Senator Skerritt further opined “To effectively penetrate this market and keep discerning visitors coming to our shores, requires an aggressive programme that includes attracting and maintaining appropriate air lift, providing superior visitor experience and implementing a consistent and well integrated marketing program.”
He told his fellow Parliamentarians that St.Kitts’ airlift program has been the envy of neighboring destinations. He added “At a time last year when other islands were losing international capacity, air service to St.Kitts was increasing.” Mr. Skerritt further noted, “ We secured a direct flight from London by British Airways as well as increased non-stop service on American Air Lines and Delta from the key gateway cities of Miami, JFK and Atlanta”.
Both British Airways and Delta are expected to increase their service to St.Kitts this coming winter season. US Airways also has weekly non- stop jet service to St.Kitts from Charlotte. This is also in addition to daily American Eagle service into the RLB International Air Port in St.Kitts from
San Juan, Puerto Rico.
In turning his attention to the Country’s efforts to attack the on-going international economic downturn, as it impacts the local tourism industry, the Tourism Minister indicated that several efforts have been made at both the regional and international level to create practical responses to the on-going crisis.
Skerritt said that the St.Kitts Tourism Authority (the marketing arm of the Ministry of Tourism) has adopted a targeted, proactive and focused approach through an integrated marketing program that enables St.Kitts to get in front of the destinations’ audience with a consistent clear message.
In his presentation carried live on national radio, the former Rhodes Scholar told his audience of the various promotional vehicles used to raise the profile of St.Kitts in the market place. According to the Senator some of these
methods include, advertising in top niche market publications, high profile presence at selected consumer and trade shows in the USA, Canada and the UK, social media networking initiatives and destination training sessions for Air Line and Tour Operator partners. Skerritt also said that Public Relations play a vital role in yielding world wide editorial coverage for the island, valued at millions of dollars.
Some joint promotional efforts are also taken with the neighboring 36 square mile sister island of Nevis, the birth place of Alexander Hamilton one of America’s greatest Founding Fathers.
The former President of the St.Kitts and Nevis Chamber of Industry and Commerce, indicated that the country’s effective marketing strategies also includes creative use of technology and the building of relationships and collaborations with key partners in the market.
The Minister proudly noted that the most innovative strategy employed since early 2009 was the use of social networking to reach the all important consumer with the launch of My St.Kitts on “Facebook” with St.Kitts becoming one of the first Caribbean islands to venture forth into this form of marketing.
With reference to the Cruise Market, Senator Skerritt says the news is exceptionally good, adding that “Cruise visitor arrivals at Port Zante (in Basseterre) are expected to continue to grow significantly and will approach the half million mark for the first time next season”. This will represent an increase of 18% following a total 419,266 berths currently being deployed at St.Kitts for 2008-2009.
He said the sustained increase in cruise arrival over the past three years is an excellent indicator of the interest that the St Kitts brand has been generating in the cruise tourism market. The picturesque island is now receiving all year round calls for the first time.
Senator Skerritt concluded his parliamentary presentation by saying ‘fortunately the heavy investment in infrastructure, sensible and tangible support for local and foreign stakeholders and the innovative marketing strategies of our Government are all now helping us to weather this
global economic storm”.
St.Kitts forms part of the Twin- Island Federation of St.Kitts and Nevis which gained its independence from Britain in 1983.