Tourism looking up for St. Kitts-Nevis: SkerritListen /
The sounds of the Caribbean waffled through the New Yorker Hotel in New York as the Caribbean Tourism Organization (CTO) celebrated Caribbean Week in New York.
During the week of activities, UN Radio spoke with a number of regional officials. Today, it's St.Kitts-Nevis' Minister of Tourism and International Transport, International Trade, Industry, Commerce and Consumer Affairs Ricky Skerrit who first explains how things are looking for tourism in St. Kitts-Nevis.
Skerrit:You know last year we began to see a recovery fro a very difficult market, difficult source market conditions and that's continued this year in terms of North America especially. We continue to se a decline in intra-regional travel into St. Kitts. So while we are making double-digit gains in the North American market and relatively small gains in the UK market, we are declining in the Caribbean market, so the net result is the first quarter this year we are up about 4 per cent. If it wasn't for the Caribbean market continuing to struggle, we would be up in double digits.
Donn: What about cruise tourism?
Skerrit: Well the cruise tourism has been phenomenal for St. Kitts and Nevis. We've had growth of 400 per cent in the years between 2006 and 2011/2012 and then I has flattened off a bit 2012 -2013 and we gonna show a growth again onwards from here. We've gone from about 150,000 cruise passengers back in 2005 and by next season we should be up above 700,000 cruise passengers. So it's a significant growth but also, the research has shown that the expenditure per passenger during that period of about 6 to 7 years has doubled. In the last couple years, it has fallen off just a little bit because of the economic conditions but generally speaking, the economic impact of cruise tourism into St. Kitts has grown in leaps and bounds.
Donn: What would you attribute to that?
Skerrit: A number of things. Our strategy has been important. We've targeted; we've communicated; we've improved product; we've made it more possible for the cruise lines to make money there by having more options for the passengers, but I think we have also been a beneficiary of the higher fuel costs per operation of the cruise lines. They've had to slow down their sailing; they've had to sail shorter distances and St. Kitts and Nevis are right on the perimeter on what would be now a sort of optimum sailing speed on a 7-day itinerary out of Miami. So that our tremendous growth..has been to the detriment of some of the market share south of use, but by and large, I would say it's because we have worked very hard to improve our product and give greater satisfaction. The data shows that. The Breyer study has shown that and basically I can say that while we have been fortunate geographically speaking, we've also been the beneficiary of hard focused work from our stakeholderi n the cruise industry.
Don: What does St. Kitts-Nevis offer to the tourist?
Skerrit: Some people describe us as the genuine, authentic Caribbean. I have learnt that the Caribbean is a fantastic place all over and all of the Islands –all of the regions have their own peculiar assets, but I think in a small island –St. Kitts offers such a rich mix of heritage, rich natural assets in terms of the mountains, the rain forests, the beautiful coastlines, wonderful beaches and under water marine environments and again, the ease of access – we have an international airport, we have wonderful improved access certainly to North America and to a certain extent to UK. But you not going to find a small island with such a rich diversity and then to top it off, all of our feed back says that we have the real warm Caribbean people. [You know people come to the Caribbean and all over the Caribbean, they meet real people that have interesting stories to tell and are just genuine warm people. There's some concern about the quality of pampering and service that we give to guests. They compare us and say 'you know you not quite up to the standard of the Far East." That is a service-oriented culture and a lot of us are working to try to improve that but you cannot beat the genuineness and the interesting traits and stories and history and culture of our people and of our Caribbean communities.
Donn: What of cultural tourism?
Skerrit: Well you know, that is an area that everywhere in the Caribbean we are trying to make use of – how do you tell the story; how do you interpret your history; how do you introduce visitors and grow the awareness and appreciation of your own local people to what is truly Kittitian or Nevisian or Caribbean in terms of our culinary strengths –well food and beverage is generally a big part of tourism – the authentic architecture, the traditional colonial-type architecture which we still cherish in terms of the character of the towns and the issue experience. We say look Come to the Caribbean for a warm weather destination but to met an interesting cultural experience. It's about the experience. It's no longer just about the beach. Everywhere in the Caribbean we are saying we know we have great beaches, we know we have warm weather year round, but come and feel and touch and learn about who we are and what we have that's so special.
Donn: What's the outlook for the future of tourism look like for St. Kitts-Nevis?
Skerrit: Very encouraged, very enthusiastic, a lot to be hopeful about, a number of new projects, a number of existing entrepreneurs looking to re-invest and make sure we can raise standards across the board. But the challenge is can we do it together? Can we get the public and private sector working closely together on an ongoing basis; can we raise standards across the board? Can we make sure we spread the benefits of tourism across the communities and really generally get our people to buy into tourism because they can feel it in their pockets and they can understand the requirements for its sustainability.
St. Kitts-Nevis' Minister of Tourism and International Transport, International Trade, Industry, Commerce and Consumer Affairs Ricky Skerrit.
This is Donn Bobb reporting.