NEW YORK CITY – As part of our coverage of the Caribbean Tourism Organization’s annual Caribbean Week event last week, Travel Agent sat down with St. Kitts and Nevis’ Minister of State for Tourism Ricky Skerritt and discussed how important the anticipated November re-opening of the Four Seasons Nevis will be on St. Kitts.
As if the economic downturn wasn’t enough of a challenge for a small island like St. Kitts, 2009 also suffered because St. Kitts’ sister island Nevis lost its crown jewel, The Four Seasons Nevis. Although located on another island, St. Kitts lost a good chunk of business when the hotel was pummeled by Hurricane Omar in 2008 and forced to close. Before the islands entered their most challenging year, they lost one of their greatest selling points.
Although not located on St. Kitts, Skerritt says many people flew to St. Kitts so they could take the ferry over to Nevis and stay at The Four Seasons. It’s very common for clients to split a week’s vacation between the two islands with The Four Seasons being Nevis’ most popular destination.
However, with the immensely popular selling point closed for close to two years now for repairs, the repeat Nevis guests are no longer staying on the island, which means they aren’t flying into St. Kitts. And the less people flying into St. Kitts means its revenue guarantee agreement with American Airlines is in jeopardy.
In fact, Skerritt told us the fear of not producing the agreed upon revenue with its American Airlines flights has prompted the tourism board to cut out its mid-week New York flights from September to November.
“Once The Four Seasons is sold, things will begin to improve for St. Kitts,” Skerritt told us, noting that the building needs to be reopened first before a sale can take place. “It’s much easier to sell a property when it is open. When The Four Seasons reopens, we expect it to be sold shortly after. And this will hopefully mean only positive things for our destination. Whoever the owners will be will know how important that hotel is for tourism to the islands.”
The closing of the property, as well as the economic downturn, lead to a roughly 11 percent drop in arrivals for St. Kitts and Nevis last year, which wasn’t that bad considering it suffered a 20 percent drop in the first quarter only to rebound for the rest of the year.
And even though the destination is up about 5 percent so far this year, Skerritt isn’t celebrating.
“It’s all relative,” he said. “I don’t think it's that impressive when you have an increase this year because what island really doesn’t? Last year was so bad that I would expect most islands to have some kind of an increase. What I would like to see is a return to 2008 numbers and we are still quite some time away from that.”