My fellow citizens and Tourism stakeholders,
Just over a month ago, we marked World Tourism Day on 27th September, a date set aside each year since 1970 to focus our collective attention on tourism’s undisputed social, cultural, political and economic value. It is my privilege and honour to address you yet again, this time on the occasion of Tourism Awareness Month 2021, a time to focus our collective attention on the multiplier effect of Tourism across multiple sectors of our economy such as agriculture, fisheries, handicrafts, entertainment, real estate, creative design, engineering, and construction, to name a few. It is imperative that we all appreciate that this transversal, dynamic sector called Tourism has tremendous potential for advancing prosperity and for driving inclusive, sustainable development for current and future generations.
I, therefore, welcome this opportunity to once again shine the spotlight on Tourism, this time on the local tourism sector specifically, especially as we continue our journey of recovery and recalibration, adjusting our attitudes, actions and ways of doing business to meet the demands of a transformed and ever-changing tourism landscape. Collectively we must continue to rise to the challenge. We must not perceive the pandemic as just a time of crisis and constraint. We must also see it as a catalyst for spurring much-needed change, innovation and transformation in the sector; as a watershed moment, ushering in and expediting welcomed cross-sectoral reforms and interventions and driving collaboration and cooperation to support safe and sustainable recovery that ultimately will benefit the industry and the economy as a whole. The ultimate goal is a return to a carefully managed, resilient, competitive and much sought-after tourism product; one that once again supports thousands of jobs across several sectors and enables progress and prosperity for our people.
The theme for Tourism Awareness Month this year is Tourism for Inclusive Growth and Sustainable Economic Recovery; carefully selected to reflect the critically important role tourism must play going forward in delivering benefits that are more equitably spread across sectors and within our communities, so they are enjoyed more widely and fairly by ALL citizens and residents. I want at this juncture to express my profound thanks to the members of the Tourism Awareness Month Organising Committee from the Ministry of Tourism and the St. Kitts Tourism Authority. I am indeed fortunate to have such a talented and committed team working together again this year to plan such a varied menu of activities, designed to foster local awareness of the value of tourism to our country. Information on the various activities planned to mark and celebrate the month can be found on both Instagram and Facebook pages at Faces of St. Kitts Tourism. We invite your prayerful support and participation.
Throughout this crisis, our country and the tourism sector have shown great resilience and the capacity for strategic thought and action. The phased, “All of Society” approach adopted from inception to manage the pandemic, clearly underscores our realisation that measurable, sustainable recovery and growth in the sector can only be realized through the consistent practice of inclusion, cooperation and collaboration. In this regard, our “Travel Approved” Certification and Seal Program, developed over a year ago by the Ministry of Tourism and the St. Kitts Tourism Authority, has offered all tourism-related business operators and service providers access to training necessary to safely and responsibly rebuild and restart tourism. To secure broad stakeholder participation the XCD $100 application fee was waived and a comprehensive communications campaign was undertaken to promote the programme and ensure that everyone in the entire tourism community was fully aware of its availability, AT NO COST TO THEM. The fee has again been waived for the 2021-2022 season and I am proud to report that from July 2020 to August 2021 3,557 persons across the Federation accessed the training. As of September 2021, an additional 221 persons have received the training, which will now continue in November, December and beyond as necessary, with specific dates to be announced accordingly, by sector. We have also extended training to tourism stakeholders and operators with non-traditional skills such as our hair braiders, aloe rub vendors and primate petting vendors, make-up artists and hairstylists, spa attendants, entertainers, wedding planners, travel agents and more – indeed ALL are welcome to attend the training to prepare themselves and the industry for safe recovery and truly inclusive growth. In this way, we expand the tourism value-chain, broaden the scope of our visitors’ experience, enhance service excellence and contribute to building a product that is attractive and competitive.
In my earlier address, I also spoke about our human capacity development agenda for both internal staff and external stakeholder businesses, and our redoubled efforts to provide practical insights into the future of work in the sector and techniques for transitioning to the ‘new normal’ that is re-defining the industry. I made mention then of an ongoing training initiative, jointly funded by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the University of the West the Indies and the Frankfurt School of Finance and Management, covering concepts such as Digital Technologies, Financial Planning and Marketing. I am happy to announce that we were recently advised that at least eighteen (18) of the primarily women-headed Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSME’s) have since completed their Business Improvement Plans (BIP’s) and have qualified to receive grants of US$4000.00 each, to invest in further upskilling themselves and equipping their businesses to join the inexorable march of technology: the use of blockchain technologies such as mobile payment systems, digitalised tourism services and platforms that will expand visitor choices, spur innovation and facilitate access to markets within tourism value-chains. In fact, St. Kitts-Nevis came in for high praise from the UNDP team as “… by far the most responsive of the territories participating in the project” and lead Federal Focal Point Miss Novelette Morton was hailed as “extremely passionate” about advancing the cause of the local MSME community. I wish to publicly thank and commend the entire team of officers working on this project. Job well done in ensuring that in this period of challenge and recovery our MSME community was afforded access to this level of technical training and financial support; indeed very timely and practical interventions to help these vulnerable businesses stay afloat and thrive.
Moreover, this UNDP programme complements core projects already being implemented by the Ministry to meet key UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that promote gender equality, poverty reduction and support the growth and expansion of sustainable cities and communities. It certainly fulfills and advances our mandate of inclusion, collaboration and functional cooperation, to realise long-term recovery and sustainable, transformative growth in the local tourism sector.
With over 250 inventoried sites of historical interest and importance, St. Kitts possesses the raw materials for comprehensive Community Based Tourism (CBT) development; leveraging our tangible and intangible culture and heritage to add to our menu of immersive, memorable experiences for locals and visitors alike. The Ministry of Tourism strongly encourages and promotes this highly inclusive, experiential brand of tourism as an avenue for diversifying our tourism real estate, delivering a more eclectic and competitive tourism product that is aligned with the sustainability interests of potential patrons, inspiring stewardship and ownership among residents and more equitably distributing the economic spinoffs of tourism to increasing numbers of individuals and communities, that are able to directly participate in and enjoy the benefits of the industry. This is critically important for creating and sustaining decent work and protecting livelihoods for more of our citizens and residents. Two initiatives that readily come to mind, which are designed to expand the reach of tourism directly into more rural communities, are the Black Rocks Enhancement project and the St. Kitts Eco-Park experience. In fact, Eco Park has been selected as the site on St. Kitts for the start of a Global Environment Facility (GEF) EC $800,000.00 project to establish a sustainable apiculture industry to grow the Federation’s domestic bee-hive stock from 75 to at least 300. An established bee-keeping industry augurs well for food security and for supporting livelihoods for our residents and citizens.
On the note of collaboration and sustainability in Tourism, I must at this time make specific reference to the St. Kitts Sustainable Destination Council (SDC) which on November 20th will be celebrating 8 years of existence. Created in response to recommendations from the Global Sustainable Tourism Council (GSTC) this multisectoral entity brings together the public and private sectors and civil society to collaborate on matters related to sustainable tourism development, on all levels. In its relatively short life span, the SDC has been lauded both regionally and internationally for its inclusive programmes and initiatives implemented over the years. Let’s recall with immense pride that in 2019 in Seville, Spain the SDC won the coveted World Travel and Tourism Council’s (WTTC) Sustainable Destination Stewardship Award! Their programme of education and training continues to energise our citizens to become protectors and stewards of our bio-diversity, environment, culture, heritage and traditions – building blocks to be used by our people to develop top quality, exciting tourism products and services. Later this month, to mark the 8th anniversary of the SDC, we will launch our second Resident Satisfaction Perception Survey to glean information about local perceptions of the industry, necessary to guide informed and strategic decision-making for people- development, so more of our citizens and residents are equipped to contribute to, support and benefit from an appealing, highly competitive and sustainable tourism product, going forward.
Similarly, our efforts to position the Federation for the full revival of the sector must include greater public buy-in and acceptance of the vaccination programmes; proven antidotes to serious illness and death from COVID and which are gaining momentum around the world. Vaccination is key to maintaining a healthy tourism-sector workforce and together with softer restrictions for vaccinated travelers, such as our recently announced 24-hour quarantine, vaccinations are also key contributors to the gradual growth and normalization of travel. As we endeavor to increase the number of persons who can benefit from the economic spinoffs to be derived from tourism, I am again appealing to all persons in the sector to get vaccinated. As a people, our collective and unified action in this matter is critical to reducing serious illness and death from COVID and hastening sector recovery and the much-anticipated return of vibrant, reinvigorated and inclusive tourism industry.
Tourism benefits both the visitors and the destinations they visit, and St. Kitts and Nevis is a destination that remains in demand. The attractiveness of the Federation has been repeatedly reaffirmed, with media outlets citing the islands for providing what many travelers are looking for today: a safe, calm and uncrowded space to enjoy nature and relax. To this end we continue to market and promote the destination for stayovers and are excited about the following developments: as of October 3, British Airways resumed service from Gatwick; on November 2, 2021, American Airlines will re-instate the daily flight from Miami; on December 19, Air Canada will commence its weekly flight from Toronto, and for the peak of the season, on December 18, service will resume from Charlotte and JFK on American Airlines, and from Newark on United Airlines.
Cruise tourism restart has seen a phased approach, with our first ship – the Seabourn Odyssey – arriving on July 22nd, 2021 with 107 passengers. While small, it commenced the reopening of cruise tourism and we are certainly heading in the right direction. For November, the official start of the 2021-2022 cruise season, we will receive a total of 24 ?????? cruise calls, 5 of them inaugural calls:
- The Celebrity Apex – 10th November
- Celebrity Constellation – 17thNovember
- Celebrity Millenium – 21st November
- Enchanted Princess – 23rd Novemberand
- The Seabourn Ovation – 25thNovember
Let’s ensure that we do all we can to make our guests and cruise line partners feel welcome, to offer enjoyable and memorable experiences that will surpass their expectations so they will continue to follow their hearts to St. Kitts and bring their friends and families with them. Additionally, as we celebrate Tourism Awareness Month 2021, let’s do so with a renewed sense and deeper appreciation of the importance of the tourism sector in supporting equitable access to decent work, enhanced livelihoods and measurable socio-economic growth and development in the Federation. I certainly want to use this occasion to congratulate the hard-working stakeholders of the tourism industry here in the Federation who over the past 18 months have demonstrated much patience and resilience, an enduring and pioneering spirit and a resolve to persevere and rebuild the tourism sector. At the Ministry of Tourism and the St. Kitts Tourism Authority, we salute you and express our heartfelt thanks and that of the Government, for your steadfast and unrelenting efforts, for remaining focused and optimistic despite the challenges. Let’s continue to celebrate our achievements to date, and use them as stepping stones to a brighter, more prosperous and inclusive future in tourism.
The pleasure is now mine to declare Tourism Awareness Month 2021 officially open! May all of the events and activities planned for the month achieve their objectives and unite us in our efforts to Reimagine, Reset, Rebound and Recover. May God continue to bless and favour us and our beloved Tourism industry.
Ladies and gentlemen, All – thank you for your kind attention.