Although high fuel prices, soaring air fares, inflation and a sagging dollar present challenges, Ricky Skerritt, St. Kitts' minister of tourism, is optimistic and upbeat.

"The year thus far has been positive,” Skerritt said. “This is a challenging year, but the first quarter was very encouraging. We've seen a turnaround from last winter when we were clobbered with the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative passport issue and saw a downturn of 9% in the U.S. market."

Load factors on American's twice-weekly nonstop flights from New York, launched in November, and Delta's Saturday nonstop from Atlanta, launched in February, "have been fantastic," according to Skerritt.

"We're pleased but now we enter the low season, and the extent to which these flights do well over the summer will determine our keeping the services year-round," he said.

One event that could jump-start the traditionally slow summer months is the 12th annual St. Kitts Music Festival from June 26 to 28. The event’s headliners are John Legend and Billy Ocean.

"The festival draws 60% of its market from locals but the rest are visitors, of which one-third are from North America," Skerritt said. "We have carefully targeted the artists we invite. We want them to attract crowds and to promote and develop the concept of music and culture as part of the whole Caribbean experience.”

As for development, St. Kitts has its eye on the luxury market, where the economy is having the least impact, according to Skerritt.

"More than 50% of our revenue is derived from tourism,” he said. “St. Kitts has to fight for market share where there is growth. The Christophe Harbour resort and residential development on the southeast peninsula includes luxury-end brands such as Kiawah Development Partners, Auberge Resorts and Mandarin Oriental. I'm reading the right market. One in every three clients targeted by Kiawah, for example, already indicated that they were considering St. Kitts as a place to do business and purchase vacation homes."

In the cruise arena, Skerritt indicated that cruise growth has skyrocketed, due in part to the weekly, year-round calls by the Carnival Destiny that began Jan. 10. The Destiny is expected to bring more than 130,000 cruise passengers to St. Kitts this year.

The cruise visits benefit ground operators, including those that arrange tours to and on the Scenic Railway, a rail tour that traverses the grounds of a former sugar plantation. The train tour will operate this summer for the first time, buoyed by Destiny passengers.

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