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Behind St. Kitts’ Post-Outbreak Travel Surge

In January, veteran Caribbean tourism marketer Ellison “Tommy” Thompson was named CEO of the St. Kitts Tourism Authority, which represents the larger “sister” territory of the dual-island Federation of St. Kitts and Nevis.

Most recently deputy director general of the Bahamas Ministry of Tourism, Thompson was selected to direct the nation’s international tourism marketing, with a focus on the land-based leisure and cruise travel segments.

“We are confident that under [Thompson’s] leadership, we will continue driving high demand for the destination among air and cruise passengers as part of tourism’s continuous rebound,” said Lindsay F.P. Grant, St. Kitts’ minister of tourism, transport and ports in a statement following Thompson’s appointment.

In the statement, Thompson promised to work closely with travel agents and tour operators and partner with airlines “to increase passenger load and service to the destination.”

TravelPulse spoke recently with the new tourism authority leader to hear his thoughts on how St. Kitts tourism has fared in the weeks following his appointment.

TP: How have St. Kitts’ visitor arrivals progressed in 2022?

TT: In terms of [land-based, overnight] visitors, we had a dip in January and February when the omicron variant was present, but in June we finished with over 9,000 [overnight] passengers, and I’m sure a lot of that is due to the St. Kitts Music Festival.

TP: How was the Festival received?

TT: It was a rousing success. I was really very impressed with how it was produced and the lineup of the artists. The energy and the staging was amazing.

TP: Were there concerns with hosting a large-scale event following the pandemic?

TT: There is always concern, but in terms of entering the Federation, [visitors] have to be fully vaccinated and they have to have either an antigen test 24 hours before arriving in St. Kits and Nevis, or a PCR test within 72 hours of arrival. So in terms of the precautions that could have been taken, I think we managed to handle things pretty well.

TP: What role does your agency play in determining the Federation’s entry protocols?

TT: The protocols are led by the Ministry of Health, so we work with them and give [them] recommendations of how we see it. A part of the consideration is what the health system would be able to handle should there be an outbreak. I think the authorities on St. Kitts and Nevis handled it really, really well.

TP: Do you anticipate protocols will be eased soon?

TT: We’ll see what the health officials tell us. But from the tourism side, while we are pushing for a relaxation of the entry requirements, we won’t ask for [entry for] non-vaccinated travelers. I think we’ll stick with allowing just vaccinated folks to come in, because again, we have to make sure the country is able to handle any adverse effects of [the pandemic outbreak].

TP: Are St. Kitts visitors limited in terms of activities?

TT: Once you have been given clearance to enter the destination you are free to experience everything there is in St. Kitts. There’s just so much to do. If you look just at the topography of the island, it’s stunning. Anywhere on the islands you either see the mountains or the ocean or you see both of them.

TP: What are some of the experiences travelers should expect to encounter on St. Kitts?

TT: The number one [visitor activity] is the scenic tour, where you do a tour around the island, half by train and half by [motorcoach]. There are very knowledgeable tour guides who give the complete history of the places of interest on St. Kitts.

Travelers definitely have to go to the rainforest in St. Kitts. It’s in the area of Brimstone Hill and it’s the only rainforest in the world that’s expanding. There are hiking experiences here [including] Mount Liamuiga, which is the highest point in St. Kitts at 3,800 feet.

Brimstone Hill is a UNESCO World Heritage Site whose fort was constructed by [enslaved persons], who chiseled the stones by hand. It’s still looked at as an architectural marvel. Also from Brimstone Hill you’re able to see Saba, Statia, St. Maarten and St. Barts. It’s absolutely an amazing experience.

TP: What other activities should travelers be sure to experience?

TT: Visitors definitely have to take part in the rum tasting. Two prominent brands in St. Kitts, Old Road rum and Hibiscus Rum, each have tours of their distilleries. These will give you a really good history of rum production in St. Kitts and how it’s done. And no rum tour is complete without a sampling. It’s a nice way to understand the culture of St. Kitts.

We want our visitors to go home with some souvenirs, so we tell them to go to the Caribelle batik factory, where the products are world-class. They not only make clothing, but scenes of St. Kitts that you can frame and hang on the wall. Batiks are also really easy to pack!

In the Frigate Bay area is the strip where you have 58 bars and restaurants. One of the great things about St. Kitts is it’s very easy for the visitors and locals to interact. So you will find locals and visitors ‘liming together.

TP: What do these attractions provide to travelers?

TT: They give visitors a much richer experience in the destination. Especially now, post-pandemic, people are looking for this sort of vacation.


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