In our past few issues, Travel Agent has been making travel agents of the, lesser-known islands to pitch to clients looking for something different in the Caribbean. Any discussion of these islands would be incomplete if we didn't mention perhaps the best among them: St. Kitts.
Located in the northern Leeward Islands, St. Kitts would appeal to clients who aren't strangers to the Caribbean. It has great beaches, like many bigger islands, as well as some of the ecotourism and soft adventure opportunities that have made such Latin American destinations as Belize and Costa Rica so popular. In that sense, St. Kitts offers a diverse tourism product bolstered by natural beauty, cultural heritage and rich history.
The island's attractions include hiking through the tropical rainforest, riding the scenic railway that connects the island's sugar plantations and touring Brimstone Hill Fortress, as well as traditional Caribbean vacation pastimes like diving and other watersports, golf, shopping, tennis, gourmet dining, gaming (St. Kitts has two casinos) or just relaxing on a sandy beach.
M.J. Batham of the Iowa-based Caribbean Information Office, who claims to send more people to such Caribbean destinations as St. Kitts, its sister island Nevis and the British Virgin Islands than any major tour operator, says she books as many as 1,000 clients to St. Kitts annually. She's been selling St. Kitts for 20 years, and notes that business there didn't really pick up until about four years ago, when the island got its first name-brand property, a Marriott. Agent Advice
Richard "Ricky" O. Skerritt, minister of state in the Ministry of Tourism, Sports and Culture for St. Kitts, told Travel Agent in an exclusive phone interview that St. Kitts first established a tourism authority about five years ago, two years after Nevis developed one. He says that in the year after the Marriott opened, U.S. visitors doubled and have increased by nearly 10 percent every year after. In 2006, St. Kitts received about 130,000 overnight visitors, about 60 percent of them from the U.S., according to Skerritt. Tourism arrivals are expected to rise further, especially in the upscale market, he says. The St. Kitts Tourism Authority has also been successful in attracting several new developments, all to be completed by 2010.
On the Horizon
Construction has begun on Ocean's Edge Resort (www.oceansedgestkitts.com), where apartments, cottages and individual villas will be spread around a 40-acre hilltop location fronting the Atlantic Ocean at Frigate Bay, within walking distance of the Royal St. Kitts Golf Course. The resort will have 64 one-bedroom apartments, 66 two-bedroom hillside apartments and 48 two-bedroom garden cottages; an additional 23 hillside plots are available for construction of individual villas. Ocean's Edge, the latest luxury creation from the Newfound Group, is due to be completed by December 2009. Travel Agent has learned that it is already more than 30 percent sold. Owners will be able to place their properties in a rental program, to be managed onsite by a leading Caribbean resort operator. The Four Seasons Nevis
Also scheduled for completion in 2009 is Kittitian Hill (www.kittitianhill.com), a $140 million project on 390 acres in the Whitegate area on the northern part of St. Kitts. Kittitian Hill will comprise more than 300 luxury villas; a boutique hotel made up of traditional island cottages; an 18-hole Ian Woosnam signature golf course with clubhouse and golf academy; a spa; town homes, condominiums and apartments in three separate enclaves with lagoon-style or infinity pools; and an Artists Village featuring a cinema, amphitheater and music and film production facilities. The Artists Village will be constructed around an open square of cafes, restaurants, shops, studios and apartments.
On St. Kitts' southeastern peninsula, Christophe Harbour (www.christopheharbour.com) sets the scene for a master-planned resort. The project spans 2,500 acres, including six beaches. Its natural harbor, sheltered by green hills and high bluffs, will accommodate mega-yachts and house a seaside village of restaurants, shops, boutiques, oceanfront homes and two five-star hotels, managed by Mandarin Oriental (www.mandarin-oriental.com) and Auberge Resorts (www.aubergeresorts.com). The 125-room Mandarin Oriental is expected to open in 2010. In January, ground will be broken on a Tom Fazio golf course and a marina that can accommodate vessels up to 300 feet long.
Skerritt told us that St. Kitts expects 400,000 passengers in 2008, an increase of about 70 percent. The growth is largely due to the addition of the Carnival Destiny, which will be the first cruise ship to call at St. Kitts on a weekly basis year-round, and the first to call there in the summer, the minister says. Destiny will bring 130,000 passengers to the island next year, beginning with its first call on January 10. The ship will spend a full day in port, allowing passengers time to explore both St. Kitts and Nevis. For information and reservations, travel agents can call Carnival at 800-327-9501 (individuals) or 800-327-5782 (groups) or visit the line's travel agent portal at www.bookccl.com.
American Airlines has just introduced nonstop service to St. Kitts from the New York area. Flights out of JFK started November 18, operating on Wednesdays and Sundays. Flight 2051 departs Kennedy at 10:45 a.m., arriving in St. Kitts at 3:55 p.m. The return flight, 2052, departs at 5:05 p.m., arriving into JFK at 8:30 p.m. American is using a 188-seat, 757-200 aircraft with 22 first-class seats and 166 economy seats for the route. Visit www.stkitts-tourism.com.