BASSETERRE, St. Kitts -- The sleepy island of St. Kitts will soon
awaken to a very new and different world, one in which tourism will
play an enormous role.
Tourism minister Dwyer Astaphan outlined goals to exponentially
increase arrivals on St. Kitts by building a deepwater port,
expanding an existing port, doubling its inventory of hotel rooms,
developing infrastructure and attracting airline service to handle
an anticipated influx of tourists on the 68-square-mile island.
Astaphan called cruise tourism "a fact of life," and said the
new, deepwater Port Zante project in Basseterre could rival
Charlotte Amalie on St. Thomas, the Caribbean's No. 1 cruise
Construction of the pier, which would accommodate Royal
Caribbean's Eagle Class ships (e.g. Voyager of the Seas), was
slated to begin this spring.
The port, which is being built on 26 acres of reclaimed land, will
offer walkways, restaurants, shops and offices, he said.
Three buildings are nearly finished and the government is
negotiating with a hotel group to manage a planned marina
The existing cargo pier in Basseterre is being expanded to
accommodate longer vessels, and construction should be completed
later this month.
Astaphan said St. Kitts could accommodate up to 7,000 passengers
per day and "reach St. Thomas' size in five years if we choose to
do so, but it's very unlikely that we will."
Nonetheless, he said that cruise arrivals could nearly double by
2003, when arrivals could "easily" reach 400,000 per year.
Fully 250,000 cruise ship passengers are expected to arrive on
St. Kitts this year, an increase from 187,081 in 2000.
The expected jump in cruise arrivals could help offset losses
from a double-digit decrease in land arrivals last year, which
dipped 18.4% below 1999 figures.
The decreases were due, in part, to damage from Hurricane Lenny,
the resulting closure of Four Seasons Resort, Nevis, and an
ownership change for Jack Tar Resorts, Astaphan said.
During that time, "there was little emphasis on hotel marketing,
which had an impact on our overall visitor figures," he said.
In an effort to turn cruise visitors into returning hotel
guests, the island is offering discounted stays to cruise
passengers who book subsequent land stays.
New and existing hotels will see a total of $350 million in
capital investment. The building of several new properties either
is under way or about to begin, Astaphan said.
St. Kitts has no formal cap on hotel development, but the island
eventually may offer as many as 5,000 hotel rooms, he said, up from
an existing count of about 1,000 units.
Toward that end, the destination is fostering the development of
larger, name-brand properties and advocating the conversion of
former plantations to hotels. Construction of new, small properties
is also planned.
Astaphan said St. Kitts will seek to preserve "our brand image,
which is set by the smaller hotels, while continuing to market St.
Kitts as an upmarket destination."
Although early indicators for land arrivals in 2001 were less
than stellar in December and January, Astaphan expects spring and
summer performance to improve as a result of upcoming festivals and
special events, such as the St. Kitts International Music Festival.
Astaphan acknowledged that additional airlift will be required
to fill these new rooms. He said hoteliers and St. Kitts tourism
executives already are speaking to carriers.
The island's airport handles 500 passengers per hour, and a
25-year development plan calls for additional airport
St. Kitts also is "looking into serving as a hub for neighboring
islands, such as Anguilla, St. Barts, Antigua, Nevis, Montserrat,
Saba, Statia and the British Virgin Islands."
With its relatively low unemployment rate of 5%, St. Kitts will
need to attract new employees to work in its tourism industry,
The destination is working to create a hotel training school "as
a catchment for the entire northeastern Caribbean, to have students
come here and learn," he said.
St. Kitts also hopes to attract Kittian expatriates.
"Many of our people work abroad, so we are looking at areas
where homes can be built so expats can resettle," he said.
Despite the efforts to first employ St. Kitts' nationals, "it's
very likely we will have to allow other people to augment shortages
of nationals, which has happened elsewhere in the region," the
When asked how St. Kitts will preserve its pristine and peaceful
image with the advent of such widespread development, Astaphan
said, "We will not allow our natural environment and cultural
heritage to be degraded by development, because the sustainability
of both gives us our branding as a destination."
Officials are "planning very carefully," to prepare for an
influx of tourists.
"Our taxi drivers receive training and certificates. We are very
serious about ensuring that the physical and social infrastructure
can absorb these visitors without trauma or degradation of the
environment," Astaphan said.