New St. Kitts And Nevis Government Turned On to Tourism
Photo: The new St. Kitts and Nevis government is viewed as a strong supporter of tourism expansion.
A change in government invariably impacts tourism development and promotion in nearly every country in the world. In the case of St. Kitts and Nevis, the tiny dual-island Caribbean nation’s tourism program has passed to an ostensibly bullish group following the arrival of the nation’s first new government in a generation.
In February Dr. Timothy Harris, St Kitts and Nevis’ new prime minister, swore in a new cabinet following his Feb. 16 election victory over the country’s Labour Party. Accepting for himself responsibility for the departments of finance, sustainable development, national security, people empowerment and constituency empowerment, Harris named Lindsay Grant minister of tourism, international trade, industry and commerce.
Grant’s appointment was somewhat surprising considering Mark Brantley, Nevis’ minister of tourism over the last two years, had established a high profile among Caribbean tourism officials, successfully heightening awareness of St. Kitts and Nevis. Harris instead named Brantley minister of foreign affairs and aviation.
Yet Brantley still hails the victory as a watershed moment for the country’s growing tourism history. “This historic election victory, which ends 20 years of one regime's rule, affords the nation of St. Kitts and Nevis a truly remarkable opportunity to better coordinate its tourism policy,” said Brantley in an email to TravelPulse.
Brantley said the new government’s main tourism goal is “to further cement our reputation as being among the finest destinations in the region.” He said the nation’s two islands “are so close geographically that our guests can truly enjoy two islands and one paradise on a single visit. Our role now is to emphasize the differences between the two islands and to capitalize on the immense value in our diversity.”
St. Kitts and Nevis hosted 74,317 overnight visitors in between January and August of 2014, a modest yet still solid 3.1 percent increase over 2013. Cruise tourism rose over the same period, climbing to 434,106 arrivals in 2014, a 16.9 percent increase over 2013.
Yet while tourism growth is evident across St. Kitts and Nevis, the country generates only a fraction of the vacationers hosted annually by the leading Caribbean destinations including the Dominican Republic, Jamaica and Puerto Rico, which each exceeded 1.5 million visitors in 2014.
In fact among the 28 destinations tracked by the Caribbean Tourism Organization (CTO), only Montserrat and St. Vincent and the Grenadines recorded fewer land-based visitors than St. Kitts and Nevis in 2014.
However the new government’s officials certainly aren’t thinking small-scale when it comes to tourism development. Plans include a cruise ship pier for the 2016 season, plus the recent launch of Kittitian Hill, a collection of upscale guest houses set on a 400-acre organic farm on St. Kitts’ north coast. Another upscale property, a Park Hyatt hotel, is scheduled to open in 2016 and a Koi Resorts property should be on stream “within 24 to 36 months,” said Lindsay Grant, the new tourism minister, in a Caribbean Journal interview.
As Brantley mentioned, Harris’ election as prime minister ended two decades of rule by St. Kitts and Nevis’ Labour Party. The change did not proceed without rancor.
In a one-source article in the Jamaica Observer, Dr. Denzil Douglas, the former prime minister, said Team Unity officials had mounted a “dirty tricks” campaign to influence the election.
Team Unity used various strategies to divert and cancel flights filled with St. Kitts and Nevis nationals living overseas from entering the country as the vote approached. The planes ostensibly included numerous Labour Party supporters.
Douglas stopped short of calling for an investigation however, saying “The facts surrounding all of these extreme peculiarities will most assuredly be brought into the full light of day.”
Meanwhile, the new government has hit the ground running, last week implementing new rules for Nevis taxi and tour operators. The tourism ministry issued program certificates and taxi permit photo identification cards to certified operators.
“This legislation incorporates best practices from other Caribbean countries” and “outline minimal standards for taxi operations in Nevis both for drivers and their vehicles,” said a ministry spokesman.
The program is designed to “improve the level of discipline, transparency and professionalism among the taxi operators on Nevis, enhance customer satisfaction levels of visitors” and “improve the image of the taxi sub-sector and the overall Nevis tourism product.”
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