Fellow Citizens and Residents, the Ministry of Tourism in collaboration with the St Kitts Tourism Authority and other Tourism Stakeholders is proud to be celebrating yet another Tourism Awareness Month over the period 1st – 30th November 2016 under the theme “Tourism Education: Connectivity for Sustainability”. This period also coincides with the celebration of Caribbean Tourism Month, thus creating a louder voice in the region reminding us all that Tourism is everyone’s business. The Tourism Sector is widely acknowledged as the major engine of economic growth and social development in the Federation, employing approximately 25% of the nation’s workforce and contributing directly or indirectly to the nation’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) by 25.5% (World Travel and Tourism Council).
Throughout this month The Ministry of Tourism and the St. Kitts Tourism Authority have planned a variety of events and activities to highlight the fact that the tourism sector is vitally important to our country, and that we all need to better understand, support, and protect tourism as one of the key drivers of our economy. This year’s campaign will focus on Stakeholder Meetings, Workshops, a Photo Competition and Exhibition, talks in Primary and Secondary Schools, Community Outreach Programmes, an Eco Tourism & Heritage Health Walk and a Students Field Trip, to name a few activities.
“As a Ministry we have committed to providing a consistently outstanding visitor experience through the sustainable development of our human, natural and cultural resources in order to maximize opportunity, prosperity and quality of life for present and future generations.”
But how will we accomplish these stated goals? We have the natural beauty, and continue to work to improve our product and facilities. We must now consistently continue our human resource and skills based training initiatives as education and training are critical in order to improve service standards that would result in the delivery of exceptional experiences. Visitors to St Kitts and Nevis spend in excess of EC$500 Million in our economy each year. This expenditure creates and supports thousands of jobs and spreads direct and indirect benefits throughout our economy.
Tourism is indeed key to the continued growth of our economy, and we all need to make a conscious effort to keep abreast of what is happening in the tourism industry. Other sectors of our economy are impacted by Tourism – such as agriculture, local fisheries, handicrafts, entertainment, real estate, creative design, engineering and construction. Tourism has therefore become important to all of us in some form or fashion. That is why it is important that individually and collectively we ALL work to understand the various facets of our Tourism Industry.
The Ministry of Tourism has embarked on a decidedly people-centered approach to tourism sector development with emphasis on service training and education. This strategic approach emphasizes community out-reach (paying particular attention to grassroots leadership) and it also targets our learning institutions, since this is where we can meaningfully engage our potential, future labour force.
Let me use this opportunity to congratulate our Junior Minister of Tourism, Miss Dahneira Hodge of the Washington Archibald High School, for placing fourth in the Caribbean Tourism Organization (CTO) Regional Competition. At that forum she spoke on the importance of social media in marketing the destination. I hope all of us will get an opportunity to see her in action during Tourism Awareness Month.
Our Youth are critical to a sustainable, vibrant, dynamic tourism industry, so we continue to endorse and participate in a number of programmes that are youth-focused. They include the recently launched Tourism Education Awareness programme, being piloted in four of our learning institutions: the Dr William Connor and Sandy Point primary schools, the Basseterre High School and AVEC. Officers from the Ministry of Tourism are working with teachers to roll out the programme. At the Dr. William Connor Primary School, a Tourism Club has recently been formed. These Students will benefit from a tour of our tourism plant in preparation for a composition on their experience.
We are fine-tuning plans for introducing the Network of Excellence for Tourism Training and Education (NETHTE), which will see the CFBC partnering with the eight (8) other OECS territories, to deliver a world-class training programme designed to supply a cadre of competent professionals, who are equipped to provide the high quality and diversified service demanded by an evolving tourism product.
All of these initiatives and more are part of government’s pro-people approach to tourism sector development, and are intended to translate into youth inclusion and capacity building, entrepreneurship and employment, so our citizens are empowered and equipped to deliver a quality, authentic and uniquely Kittitian experience, that will add value and differentiate us from other destinations.
It is known throughout the world that Kittitians are naturally friendly and always eager to help. This is extremely important, because how we treat our guests impacts the success of our Tourism Industry. A simple smile, or a greeting, can go a long way in making our visitors feel welcome in our country. Our guests expect that we are a peaceful and safe country, and that our destination will provide for them a valuable and effective retreat from the daily stresses of the Cities and Towns where they originate. In exchange our visitors are prepared to pay us for the value they receive and the personal enrichment that they feel during their visit. Whether our guests come here as hotel, condominium or Villa guests, or as cruise passengers, or as international students and faculty of Off-Shore Universities; no matter where they come from, we must demonstrate that the people of St. Kitts are happy to be their hosts.
That is why customer service of a very high standard is so important. Presently the St. Kitts Tourism Authority is embarking on a nation-wide program to host customer service training for all front line employees in the industry.
Tourism Front line workers: waiters, taxi operators, tour guides, hair braiders and front desk staff – provide services directly to the tourists. In many ways these employees are central to a sustainable tourism industry, for they play a major role in affecting the experiences visitors have in St. Kitts.
We continue to receive numerous accolades with respect to the product we offer, and the destination in general. During 2016 we were ranked in the top ten for the Best Islands in the World, Best Caribbean Vacations, Best Beach/Honeymoon Destination in the World, an Emerging Luxury Destinations for 2016, in addition to being ranked # 1 for Best Caribbean Honeymoons. In June we also celebrated with the St Kitts Music Festival family, its 20th Anniversary. To date the reviews and media attention has been extraordinary. Even as we receive these accolades and awards we constantly remind ourselves that there is always room for improvement. We cannot be complacent if we intend to remain competitive.
My fellow citizens, we must all be proud of our tourism industry. St. Kitts is indeed the ideal vacation get-away. Open your eyes and look around you, from village to village, town to town we are surrounded by lush greenery, vegetation and brilliant mountain views. Our beaches are spectacular. We have more than 240 inventoried historical sites such as Brimstone Hill Fortress National Park, Spooner’s Ginnery to name but two. These are ours to protect and develop in a sustainable way so that generations to come can also reap the benefit.
The McKnight Community embraced the idea of Community Tourism and spearheaded the McKnight on the Rise Beautification Project earlier this year and has begun to make a difference in their community by adopting a space for beautification and recreation.
Our Rails to Trails Project is yet another avenue for community development. In the months ahead you will certainly hear more about this outreach initiative that seeks to take tourism to the communities.
The Heart of St Kitts Foundation and Sustainability Charter was launched in February this year. The Charter is used as a tool for tourism enterprises to tell their sustainability story while the Foundation has been created mainly as a travel philanthropy programme which sources funding for sustainable tourism development projects in St Kitts.
So far these projects have successfully engaged 50 stakeholders from both public and private sectors on collaborative action planning for destination management. The implementation of the Sustainable Tourism Professionals Certificate Program in 2013 resulted in over 30 public and private-sector destination-stakeholders graduating from the program, earning the title of ‘Destination Guardian’.
The United Nation World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) has declared 2017 as the International Year of Tourism for Sustainable Development in keeping with its recently revised MDGs where Tourism now has a more prominent place.
A Sustainable Tourism Conference is proposed during the yearlong celebration to highlight St Kitts and the work being undertaken in destination stewardship.
This is OUR tourism industry in action! We musr be proud of OUR island, of OUR heritage and culture. Fellow citizens, now is the time to educate yourself on the opportunities that are available. People are at the heart of tourism in St. Kitts – we must be committed to delivering exceptional service and to creating unforgettable experiences that will continue to impress our visitors so they become our ambassadors on their return home.
Every single month should be Tourism Awareness Month. Yes, our tourism product should be celebrated every single day. Now is the time to draw inspiration and encouragement from the opportunities that lie ahead, and the significant strides we have made so far, to grow our tourism sector and provide good jobs for Kittitians.
It is an indication of what can be achieved through the collective effort and commitment of the tourism industry, our citizens and government coming together to create new products, enhance the services delivered, and reach out to a wider global market.
Whether you benefit directly or indirectly from Tourism, our hope at the Ministry of Tourism is that you will use Tourism Awareness Month 2016 to learn more about our country, the business of tourism and the expectations of our visitors, particularly our high-end customers. These undertakings when coupled with our understanding of the value of tourism to the development of our country would engender a spirit of determination to make the sector more vibrant, competitive and sustainable for future generations.
I trust that the activities this month will stimulate more ideas and initiatives to sustain the growth of our tourism sector. Let me, at this time, wish everyone an enjoyable and productive Tourism Awareness Month.