TDUK: How is St Kitts performing in terms of UK visitor numbers? What are the projections for 2015?
RB: Despite the fall out of the global economic crisis, our visitor numbers have been growing steadily and we recorded a 12.4 % increase in passenger numbers for January to October 2014 from the European market, compared to the same period in 2013. While the increase is modest, the destination is certainly feeling more positive with the changes in APD from April 1st and forward bookings looking favourable for the year; and we are looking forward to a 5% increase in stopover visitors for 2015 over 2013.
What’s driving demand?
The scheduled BA twice-weekly service, on Wednesday and Saturday, has continued to be a significant partner for St. Kitts, making the destination more accessible to UK visitors and more viable for tour operators. However, other factors are also driving demand, significantly new luxury product and continued hotel improvements which will significantly increase the island’s bed capacity for 2015-2016 by approximately 400 new rooms, the majority representing high-end luxury accommodation.
To put this in to context, in 2016, St. Kitts will have added 134 new rooms when the Park Hyatt St. Kitts opens and the full count of 112 rooms following completion of the final guesthouses and farmhouses at Belle Mont Farm, Kittitian Hill in addition to the first phase of other high-end developments such as Koi Resorts.
We have also just this week (as of May 6th) announced that Embassy Suites by Hilton is to open in St. Kitts as part of a major new development called Pelican Bay, making it the first Embassy Suites of the Hilton brands to open in the region.
We have also been witnessing a new customer, attracted by the launch of our first private air terminal and YU Lounge, and more recently, as of February 2015, with the island’s superyacht marina, now taking in the first superyachts.
New development is not just exclusive to St. Kitts. In Nevis there are several luxury resorts in planning and development, which will continue to drive demand.
Trade Campaigns focused on partnerships with British Airways and new Tour Operators such as Barrhead Travel are also a major focus for our strategic promotion of the destination in 2015 to drive demand.
What’s unique about St Kitts?
I would say that what makes St. Kitts unique as a destination is that we are a small island destination with a diverse product, in that we can offer everything that other islands offer but on a smaller and more personal and intimate scale.
The hospitality of our people are our biggest asset; our heritage offers historical treasures such as the UNESCO Brimstone Hill Fortress and National Park and unique tours such as the Scenic Railway, the only tour of its kind in the Caribbean; while our natural heritage, offers a protected rainforest and dormant volcano, Mt. Liamuiga where visitors can hike, explore and discover wildlife and spectacular beauty.
What type of customers and niche markets does it suit?
We are targeting the luxury market; but also those who are looking for experiences which are new and authentic, which is exactly what St Kitts offers. We are not looking for mass tourism rather we want to attract the affluent, discerning visitor who wants to experience what the destination offers, for example, trying new and local foods, mingling in the markets, joining the locals for a drink at our beach bars and discovering our island culture.
Niche markets are also key with the Wedding and Honeymoon market, Family market, MICE and Sports/Soft Adventure being our biggest areas for development.
What’s your strategy for improving visibility in the UK and therefore, boosting sales?
Partnerships are a key part of our strategy; and these include ongoing incentives with our largest partner, British Airways; with Tour Operators including a recent initiative with Barrhead Travel in Scotland to open up new markets for the destination; and with media such as the Telegraph Media Group including the production of destination supplements, as well as a destination app.
Our more recent initiative has been Destination St. Kitts and Nevis in the UK, which was launched in 2013 as an alternative to World Travel Market. The event is a week of high-profile events, hosting tour operators, travel agents, consumers and media, alongside our partners from both islands; an initiative that is focused on building existing and new relationships between St. Kitts and Nevis and its UK partners.
We are also continuously improving visibility through PR and marketing activities including direct sales and advertising. Social media is also a huge part of our strategy with a dedicated team supporting Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube and Pinterest.
Finally, promotion of island events such as the St. Kitts Music Festival in June (2015 dates are 25th to 27th June); Sports events such as the CPL (Caribbean Premier League) in June and July with matches to be played in St. Kitts; Sugar Mas Carnival in December; our first Restaurant Week in July, Culturama in July and August and sponsorship of niche events with our sister island Nevis, such as the Cross-Channel Swim, all play a part in attracting music, sports and leisure enthusiasts as well as the diaspora and local region markets.
What role does the travel trade play in this strategy and what initiatives and incentives do you have planned to get the trade on board?
We have an ongoing programme throughout the year with the trade to build relationships with key partners in the industry via:
– Sales calls and training events
– Trade and consumer shows
– Fam trips
We also recently launched a booking incentive with My Booking Rewards, offering a £10 bonus to agents logging their first booking and £5 for each booking over seven nights with further incentives throughout the year for the chance to win vouchers and places on a fam trip.
Destination St. Kitts and Nevis offers a further opportunity to get tour operators and agents on board and interacting with island partners who visit the UK to develop business and provide an update to the trade of their product.
What are your top five selling points for St Kitts?
- We offer the authentic Caribbean; or as we like to say, the Quintessential Caribbean.
- We are not a ‘been there, done that’ destination, but a new destination to discover, the first step in to the Caribbean.
- New luxury product – in 2014 we opened the first YU lounge and private air terminal in the region and just earlier this year launched our first superyacht marina. We are making improvements to existing accommodation such as Ocean Terrace Inn, now open after an extensive refurbishment and re-branding; there is ongoing development at Kittitian Hill including the boutique Belle Mont Farm and other developments in progress – as well as two new championship golf courses on stream – these are all factors that are key elements of our luxury product.
- St. Kitts’ unique heritage is a strong focus for our marketing; telling the story of our rich history, the significance of once being the capital of the Caribbean and English & French early arrivals reflected in our place names, architecture, customs and food. Uniquely, we offer the Caribbean’s only Scenic Railway, namely the St. Kitts Scenic Railway Tour; while other heritage icons include the UNESCO Brimstone Hill Fortress and National Park and Caribelle Batik to name but a few.
- We offer a twin-island destination with Nevis, only 45 minutes away via a ferry ride; a chance to explore two very different islands – which are marketed as ‘Two Islands-One Paradise’.