CHTA 2011 Preview: Ricky Skerritt, St Kitts & Nevis

CHTA 2011 Preview: Ricky Skerritt, St Kitts & Nevis

The Hon. Ricky Skerritt is Minister of Tourism and International Transport for St. Kitts & Nevis. He is also the current chairman of the Caribbean Tourism Organisation (CTO), the Caribbean’s official tourism development agency.

Throughout his distinguished career, Minister Skerritt has held senior positions in private enterprise on St. Kitts.

Prior to his ministerial appointment, he was the first full time Manager of the West Indies Cricket Team. He has served as a Member of the St. Kitts-Nevis Carnival Committee, Vice President of the Caribbean Association of Industry & Commerce (CAIC), and President of the St. Kitts-Nevis Chamber of Industry & Commerce.

A keen golfer and a father of four, he also holds a Master of Science degree from Oxford University and is a former Rhodes scholar.

BTN: What kind of year has 2010 proved for St Kitts & Nevis?
RS: 2010 was quite challenging for St. Kitts & Nevis, as we continued to feel the effects of the recession in our source markets. The year started off with renewed optimism as world tourism slowly began to rebound, however for us other factors came in to play, including the continued closure of the Four Seasons Hotel which fortunately has just reopened last month. The volcano-related airlift crisis hurt our region badly coming soon after we celebrated the inaugural of BA’s second weekly flight from the UK. This was compounded later in the year with the rise in APD and the temporary shutdown of airports because of freezing conditions in the UK. On a more positive note, arrivals by air are beginning to rebound in the region and our cruise arrivals continued to show steady growth throughout the recession.

(Fishing boats, Nevis)

BTN: How do you envisage 2011 shaping up?
RS: I have a very positive feeling about 2011. We have some very strong initiatives in the market place, our partnership strategy is beginning to see results and we started the year on a high with BA’s announcement that St. Kitts was predicted to be one of their top growth destinations for 2011. 
BTN: What has been your strategy for coping with the global downturn?
RS: During the past year, we successfully implemented more partnership-based marketing projects than ever before. Perhaps this is because it is during a recession, when resources are hardest to come by, that some of us more readily see the value of pooling resources and working in tandem. But even as we slowly climb out of the recession in 2011, partnerships ‘will remain as a key ingredient in our tourism marketing strategy, especially because of its proven high return on investment.

How would you like your nation’s travel and tourism economy to evolve?
RS: Our vision for St. Kitts & Nevis is to become a service-based economy with genuinely friendly, proud and productive residents offering a memorable and accessible holiday experience to the more discerning traveller, who is looking to for an authentic Caribbean island encounter with a rich heritage and culture and an invigorating natural environment. As a total destination experience, our ambition is to provide added value that is worth coming here for. We also want to be one of the leading destinations where couples want to tie the knot and stay for their honeymoon, and where families will find it a reason to return. 
BTN: You’ve been very vocal in your opposition of APD. What would you like to see as a viable alterative that serves as a levy without harming the travel and tourism economy?
RS: Caribbean people at home and in the UK have been opposed to APD from the very beginning. APD is clearly a barrier to travel to our region because it is particularly discriminating against long-haul travel. So we are not happy about any aspect of it. Ideally, we want to see a re-banding of the tax to remove the unfair size of the charges on long distance destinations. As you know, Caribbean nations under the umbrella of the CTO, have already submitted proposals to the British government for changes which do not hurt the overall tax revenue of APD, and we await their response.
How do you see your role as chairman of the CTO, and what’s the one objective you would most like to achieve?
RS: As Chairman of the CTO, I see one of the key aspects of my role as bringing a consensus for strengthening and revitalising CTO’s advocacy role; to bring in strategies that will move the Caribbean towards promoting tourism as one region, one global voice; and to educate governments and stakeholders across the region in raising awareness of the importance of investing and supporting the tourism industry as a vital tool for economic development.  As to the one objective I would like to achieve, that is to see the Caribbean re-establish itself as the world’s premier warm-weather travel destination while delivering the highest quality of customer service and visitor satisfaction. Very difficult to achieve in a two-year term, but we will give it our best shot.

(Cruise tourism is growing rapidy in St Kitts & Nevis)

What are the key markets for St Kitts & Nevis? And where do you see the most potential for growth?
RS: For stopover visitors to St Kitts & Nevis, the US has been our biggest market traditionally; however, we started to vigorously tap in to the UK market about five years ago, which has shown a huge potential for growth. This of course has been helped by the commencement of the direct British Airways service two years ago, now running twice-weekly from London (Gatwick). However, there is also a need to create more linkages between tourism and other sectors to successfully tap in to this market and I see the most potential in areas such as sport tourism, heritage tourism and eco-tourism.

The cruise tourism sector is also growing rapidly and we continue to invest in this sector as the Caribbean continues to be the number one destination globally.

What are you hoping to achieve at this year’s Caribbean Marketplace?
RS: Caribbean Marketplace always offers us the platform to conduct business with the right local and international tourism partners, to be able to grow interest in St. Kitts & Nevis as an increasingly viable destination for 2011 and beyond; and to ensure the destination remains top-of-mind within the industry. We will therefore make sure we meet with the right partners, be they airlines, tour operators, companies, suppliers and so on.
BTN: What are the key issues facing the Caribbean as a region, and what can be done collectively between the islands to foster travel and tourism?
RS: Aside from the whole APD issue, violent crime is a growing issue we need to tackle together. While incidents of violence against visitors across the region are relatively rare, it has become a growing concern amongst Tourism Ministers and collectively we need to work to ensure the Caribbean remains a safe destination for all.

I believe as a region, we need to also counteract the environmental impact of tourism by establishing responsible and sustainable practices within our tourism plans. For example, greater attention needs to be paid to energy and water conservation, the preservation of our rich heritage and culture, and the empowerment of rural communities.

BTN: What in the way of plans, development or initiatives are currently underway on your island?
RS: We have been successful in attracting major tourism investment from both local and international sources and we are currently moving forward with a progressive development programme, which over the next four years will not only more than double our hotel bed offering, but will introduce much needed visitor amenities including two new 18-hole championships golf courses, a marina development, new restaurants and other commercial enterprises. All are being built eco-sensitively and in tandem with the natural assets of the island.
Natural advantages (sun, sand and sea) are no longer sufficient to give the Caribbean the competitive edge in global markets and we have also been successful in implementing a unique family programme developed to enhance the tourism product in St. Kitts & Nevis and offer added value for families visiting the destinations in 2011. Meanwhile, we continue to focus on our heritage and cultural product, developing new and exciting attractions for our visitors.