Interview: G.A Dwyer Astaphan, Minister of tourism St. Kitts

8th Sep 2003

This week Caribbean-Weekly will be stationed on the small yet perfectly formed island of St. Kitts. Reporting live, we are here for the 5th annual CTO (Caribbean Tourism Organisation), Conference on Sustainbale Tourism Development. As the Monarch airline touched down on the tarmac of Robert L. Bradshaw International airport I knew that there was something special about the place. The vast mountainous scenery that jetted past the cabin window as the craft came in to land, gave me the impression that St. Kitts had something special to offer. This edge became even more apparent as I was greeted by the Minister of Tourism as if I were an old friend. `You be Ben, and I be big, so together we be Big Ben!` I knew that this was to be a press trip to remember.It`s not usual for myself to be invited to breakfast with a Minister, not least when it is the Minister himself who be cooking! Then again it`s not all that common that I attend Church on a Sunday morning in St. Kitts and the guest of honour be none other then the world`s fastest man and native of St. Kitts, Kim Collins.So the scene was set. There I was sat on the balcony of the Ministers house over looking the enchanting Frigate Bay. A breakfast of eggs and bacon set the mood and the interview began:
CW: How is tourism on the island? DA: Well, tourism is better then last year so things are picking up. Like other islands we have been subjected to influences of global economic and political instability. Having a limited resource base, tourism is our biggest foreign exchange.
CW: Caribbean-Weekly has observed that the Marriott are carrying out extensive work on their golf course, is this the only golf development on the island?DA: Let me explain, the first nine holes of the Marriott course are set for completion this month, whilst the remaining nine holes will be completed in the early quarter of 2004. There is another major new development of golf course and villa`s commencing next month at `La Vallee`, which is close by to the historic fortress of Brimstone. Initially the golf course will be constructed, which will take around 12-15 months. Then work will begin on the villas, investors will then be able to purchase a villa in paradise, its a great project for the island. One of the most exciting projects though will be the development of the 18 hole Crystal Hights over in the White Gates area of the island, this will start on January 3rd next year. Here we will also be investing in a movie stage and sound production studio - we want to attract people from the entertainment`s industry to come and invest in our beautiful country.
CW: Are there any other development penned in for the island?DA: Brother, right next to the area where the the movie stage will be constructed we are also producing a small state of the art through-breed horse track. Also, as of next June, SuperClubs will be developing a 225 suite, five star Grand Lido resort just down there on the side of the mountain (the Minister points from his balcony to one of the western sides of a vacant mountain over looking North Frigate Bay). It wil be a superb luxury development and a great assest to St. Kitts. However it is not a development unless there is an economic and social benefit for our people, that is the vision of development on our island.
CW: Is the Spa market an area that you would like to develop on the island?DA: We already have some fantastic spa facilities on the island. For instance Ocean Terrace Inn has a spa, and then there is the Marriott which has to be just about the best spa in the Caribbean - it has somewhere in the region of ten treatment rooms, its a beautiful place to unwind. Ottley`s Plantation also has a good spa.
CW: Tell Caribbean-Weekly readers about the islands Scenic Raiway tour?DA: Man, you get two tours out o` that railway. Not only does it give you a tour of the island but it also follows the track used to carry sugarcane at harvest time, which is still operational. The carriages are full of true Caribbean ambience - beautifully appointed, reflecting the friendliness of the people. Its a delightful, let me say unique, experience. There is nothing else like it in the Caribbean.
CW: What sets St. Kitts apart from other areas of the Caribbean?DA: I guess it is because of the physical make-up and the cultural elements that St. Kitts is as wonderful as it is, yet all of this would not be possible without the people. Here you can feel the culture, it echos in the sincere, efficient and dignified manner of our people. We also play host to in excess of 200 heritage sites, with 31 of them being of primary hemispheric significance. On an island this size that makes almost one for every two square miles. That is simply incredible. One of particular mention is Brimstone Hill Fortress which dates back to the 17th Century - it is sometimes referred to as the Gibraltar of the West Indies. Anywhere in the world can have Sun, Sea and surf but without the right culture you will just end up like another Miami beach, and nobody wants that.
CW: How important is the archeological work that is taking place on the island at present?DA: It is without doubt one of the most important projects that the island has witnessed in the last fifty years. It is important and dramatic not only for enhancement but also awareness of our own heritage. This project allows us to market ourselves to the world. Dr. Spooner is unveiling our connections to imperial Europe, he is uncovering the story of our history, This will surely become a must see attraction - its a very seductive discovery.
CW: Finally, what does the future hold St. Kitts, and with the 5th Annual CTO Conference on Sustainable Tourism Development starting on Tuesday, how will St. Kitts continue to sustain itself?DA: Here on St. Kitts we try to transform the mind set of our employees - we train people to be entrepreneurs, to think more proactively. When it comes to development we link it to tourism to increase our product, yet we stll must preserve. Our primal instinct is a protective one - this is essential for sustainability. No other country has taken this approach, it is not a case of being arrogant - it is just that after a late start in the tourism game it is better to get it right then to repeat the mistakes already made.
And with that I pack up my things and head for a beach that comes with a Ministers stamp of approval, Cockleshell Bay.
Caribbean Weekly would like to thank the Minister for a hearty breakfast..!



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