Rosecita Jeffers returned to the St. Kitts Tourism Authority as CEO last August after a hiatus of five years, during which she ran her own event planning business.
It was good to be back, she said. But for Jeffers, as for most tourism officials, the last eight months "have proven a real challenge."
Jeffers is up to the challenge, however. "Last year was decent for St. Kitts in terms of visitors," she said. "We gained more than 9,000 visitors over 2007, with more than half from the U.S., which was up 10% over the previous year.
"But we're taking nothing for granted in this economy, and this year we are far more aggressive in the marketplace. We've taken a tactical approach, knowing we had to adjust, be visible and take action to minimize the visitor fallout."
Through March, St. Kitts saw a global decline in stayover visitors between 15% and 30%, although the U.K. market began to strengthen when British Airways introduced a weekly nonstop flight from Gatwick in January.
The U.S. remains the primary market for St. Kitts, bringing in more than 60% of visitors. But slippage has occurred across the board this year in both leisure and meetings bookings.
"People just don't have the confidence right now to commit to travel in the face of the economic situation," Jeffers said. "We remain committed to the high-end market -- we depend on those travelers -- but our niche markets are developing quite well."
Cruise tourism, however, is robust, according to Jeffers. St. Kitts welcomed more than 350,000 cruise passengers this winter and is targeting half a million next season.
The 2,500-acre Christophe Harbour development on St. Kitts' southeastern peninsula remains on track. Phase one of the 18-hole golf course will be completed next year. Groundbreaking took place in March for the first homesite that will form the residential component of the project. A mega-yacht marina and two five-star hotels, including a 125-room Mandarin Oriental resort, will anchor the entire development.
"People are buying these homesites," Jeffers said. "The residences have topped $40 million in sales already."
Other resort projects on the island include the Marriott St. Kitts Beach Club and Ocean's Edge Resort.
Travel incentives laced with value-added strategies include the Fall in Love promotion, which offers seven nights for the price of five, valid through Dec. 19; and specific programs for small properties under 100 rooms.
Playing to the social networking market, St. Kitts has its own page on Facebook, at My St. Kitts.
The 13th annual St. Kitts Music Festival, from June 25 to 27, will feature an all-star lineup, including Jamaican-born Movado, Regina Belle and T-Pain. Details are available at www.stkittsmusicfestival.com.
The festival "is always a big draw for St. Kitts and helps fill a gap in the off season, especially with hotel packages tied into the festival events," Jeffers said.