Venture Deeper into St. Kitts – History, Culture and Romance

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Rachel Ritfeld sits with St. Kitts Tourism Authority’s CEO, Ellison ‘Tommy’ Thompson and Melnecia Marshall, deputy CEO, for an inside perspective on the new Venture Deeper campaign and the post-pandemic plans to revive the tourism industry in St. Kitts.

With air services increasing and entry protocols lifted, there has never been a
better time to plan a trip to St. Kitts. The warm and welcoming local community is ready to receive visitors and offer one-of-a-kind experiential travel, show off nature’s wonders and reveal their local culture and rich history.

Want to show off your moves at Sugar Mas or St. Kitts’ world-class music festival? Or are you searching for a premier destination wedding location? Look no further: St. Kitts is the answer!

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What do you hope to achieve during your time as CEO of St. Kitts
Tourism Authority?

ET: I’ve got a really great opportunity to lead the team and the recovery of the industry from the Covid pandemic. It needs to get back to 2019 levels in terms of arrivals for both stopovers and cruise visitors. In addition to that, we need to look at how we strengthen the airlift coming into the Federation, from the international markets, the source markets, also from the Caribbean markets. Traditionally, the Caribbean was the second-largest market for St. Kitts, so we were working with regional carriers to try and boost the air services coming in from the region. We’re also looking at innovation in terms of new tools, new activities for visitors to do once they’re in St. Kitts. We’ve just launched a new brand campaign – Venture Deeper, which is propelling the destination to new heights.

As a lover of nature and culture, the Venture Deeper campaign launched in September feels perfectly suited to travellers like myself, who also enjoy small group travel or private tours. The focus of this campaign is on rebuilding pillars of Sustainability, History, Culture and Romance. This seems complementary to the efforts to rebuild small and medium-sized enterprises and tour operators in St. Kitts, who were hit the hardest by the pandemic. Was supporting small business owners part of the strategy of the campaign? Is there a time limit on when you hope to achieve this?

ET: Part of what we do at the St. Kitts Tourism Authority is to ensure that the wealth of tourism is being transferred throughout the island. When we came up with the campaign Venture Deeper, the idea was to incorporate cultural tourism, which then takes you out of the central area, Basseterre, and into the communities throughout the island. Venture Deeper has so many legs: you can Venture Deeper into cuisine, Venture Deeper into romance, Venture Deeper into dive etc. We think it’s a perfect segue for us to use this campaign for a number of years.

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What role can the private sector play in developing this strategy?
ET
: An excellent campaign presentation was introduced to stakeholders pre-launch and again during Tourism Awareness Month, along with panel discussions. From the St. Kitts Tourism Authority perspective, we’re the ones who do the heavy lifting in terms of the destination desire. Then we show the stakeholders what the immediate plan looks like and where they can fit in with their marketing to complement what we’re doing.

The St. Kitts Music Festival is without a doubt one of the most exciting events in the region annually. What does this festival contribute to tourism in St. Kitts? What kind of visitor numbers did you see with the return of the festival after the pandemic.

MM: The St. Kitts Music Festival was created to supplement the income of the destination in what would traditionally be the slow period. The festival is scheduled for the last weekend in June, which is the summer, when we don’t normally get a lot of visitors coming in from North America as most persons are taking their vacations elsewhere. The festival was created to bring income to the destination to all of our private, traditional and non-traditional vendors so that they can earn during those summer months. It has become a very, very big festival – we had about 6,000 attendees last year, which was great, especially considering that we were just emerging out of the pandemic and did not have all of our entry restrictions lifted yet. As of August 2022, all of the restrictions to the island have been lifted, so we’re looking forward to carnival, which is scheduled to begin next weekend.

Speaking of St. Kitts Carnival, aka Sugar Mas, are there any plans
to make this a destination carnival and attract more international visitors?
MM
: Sugar Mas is already considered to be a destination carnival. We do have quite a few international visitors who travel to the destination, because it is held December to January. It’s a festival that spans almost two months. It incorporates the culture, the folklore, the cuisine – all of the pillars that we are using to rebuild our tourism and move on to our new strategy, Venture Deeper. After a two-year hiatus, the carnival is coming back bigger than ever. We anticipate that we will have a very successful carnival season.

ET: Everything is already off to a good start, because some of the groups are telling us that they’ve already sold out their costumes. I can’t stress enough how the relaxation of the entry protocols accelerated the business.

MM: One of the things that we’ve seen is that the diaspora, that is the international visitors, are planning to return home because it has been two years since everyone has been able to come together. We’re very excited about that.

You’d be surprised how many people have sent me pictures of their
mas costumes. So, it is definitely something everybody is looking forward to.

As a smaller island, what are the other things that St. Kitts is doing
to attract more visitors? Are there any plans to increase the number of direct flights to St. Kitts?

ET
: We’re definitely going after the romance market; we see that as a great addition to what St. Kitts can offer. That does two things for us: it brings in a younger demographic, but also it brings in that demographic that has a little extra cash to spend for such a special occasion. So that means more revenue left in St. Kitts. We are also focusing on the culinary and the adventure markets. We just won the Caribbean’s Leading Dive Destination and the Leading Hiking Destination. So that’s part of the soft adventure activities that we’re promoting.

We saw that St. Kitts’ visibility was not where it needed to be, so we’re putting in resources to elevate the profile.

MM: St. Kitts is poised to offer experiential travel, which is what persons are looking for coming out of the pandemic. They are looking to be educated on the destination, to give back to the destination, and we believe that St. Kitts can offer them those experiences.

ET: They’re looking for a richer engagement with the local population – there’s no place like St. Kitts to ‘lime’ with the locals.

I couldn’t agree more. My favourite type of travel in St. Kitts is
off the beaten track. So I think it’s a wonderful campaign. Next year, 2023,
marks 40 years of independence for St. Kitts and Nevis. Are there any special celebrations that visitors should keep in mind?
ET
: I think that it’s still in the planning stage. From the St. Kitts Tourism Authority of the UK, we are going to do familiarisation trips for travel advisers – probably five trips for 40 agents celebrating 40 years of independence. We’re pretty sure that the music festival, Restaurant Week, all of these activities will have some elements of the 40th anniversary of independence.

MM: The good thing about the music festival is that it will be celebrating 25 years, so we’re looking to ensure that it’s a very special festival as it coincides with 40th anniversary of independence.

Restaurant Week will have some additions to the calendar, such as Grill Fest and Eye Opener. Grill Fest is more of a community-based event, comprising competitions such as a barbecue, where our visitors can come and enjoy the
local cuisine and local folklore and culture. Eye Opener is a cocktail competition. This is all in line with venturing deeper, beyond the sea, beyond the sand, to get that richer experience on what Kittitian life is about.

At the end of the day, it’s all about ‘Kittitianising’ them.

You’re in the UK right now. How has your time here been, meeting the
various trade partners? Has anything been learnt so far that St. Kitts could do differently?
ET
: It’s been busy, busy, busy! We met with British Airways, British Airways Holidays, we hosted a media lunch. One of the fantastic things about that was after our presentation they were so excited, saying: “You’ve given us so many new ideas of stories that we can pitch.” We’ve also done two travel adviser presentation nights, and the last one will be here tonight, in Dorking. They’ve been very well received. The co-operation with Nevis has been a success. Both St. Kitts and Nevis have brought in their hoteliers to be a part of it, to create that buzz and that added educational component for the travel advisers.

MM: One of the things that we have learned, being in the UK, is that many of them see the Caribbean as all the same. They have been very receptive to Venture Deeper as a way of differentiating the destination from the other Caribbean islands, and we are able to highlight those differences, especially our rich culture and history.

And finally, what is your personal favourite annual event and your
favourite place to visit in St. Kitts that you feel visitors can’t leave
without seeing or experiencing?

ET
: Well, my favourite is the St. Kitts Music Festival!
MM: He took mine, now I have to think about it. I’m not a big street parade person, but I do believe our carnival is something that should not be missed. And that’s just because it showcases so much of our culture.

It’s that one period of the year where you can get all the local food and see
the costumes! Not just the band costumes, but the traditional cultural costumes and you’re able to see our characters and all of those things. So I would say one after the music festival would be our carnival.

Also, hiking the rainforest; that is a must. If you come to St. Kitts, our rainforest is one of the few that’s actually expanding. There’s so much you can learn from our tour guides who give these exceptional tours – they explain the flora and the fauna and the medicinal benefits of the plants. Then once you get to the top, you have these magnificent views of St Maarten, St Eustatius, Saba and Anguilla! You can see quite a few of the surrounding islands from the top of Mount Liamuiga. I really think it’s a must-do!

St. Kitts is very beautiful; the vistas are just breathtaking. From anywhere on
the island you can either see the ocean or the mountain, because the mountains run through the middle and everything is on the coast; it’s special.

ET: I like the water, so I recommend the catamaran tour around the island, the snorkelling aspect, and also being able to go to Nevis and stop of at one of these lovely little places called Sunshine’s on Nevis. It can’t be missed!

MM: I had to drag him home last time, Rachel!

For flights and booking information visit ba.com/stkitts

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