25 AUG 2014: Sun and sand can be had in many Caribbean hot spots but there’s one island that’s in the midst of separating itself from the pack. St. Kitts, the sister half of Nevis (that’s St. Kitts and Nevis) has been busy collaborating on new developments with luxe hoteliers and is in the process revamping a harbour in the southern peninsula that I hear is already drop dead gorgeous.

St. Kitts Tourism Authority’s new CEO Racquel Brown who started her position eight months ago was in Toronto to discuss some of the island initiatives to a group of travel media at a press breakfast held in the Shangri-La Hotel last week.

“If there’s one thing you can’t find anywhere else it’s our railway,” she smiles. The old railway, a throwback to the island’s early sugarcane days which was the biggest industry in St. Kitts until 2005 when the government, she says, consciously decided to close it down, has been a unique attraction ever since.

“The train takes you through the landscapes that used to be old sugar plantations which intertwine today with a lot of Kittians doing their everyday lives. You get to see Sint Eustatius. How often do you get to go to another Caribbean island and get to a land drop to see two islands - Nevis and Sint Eustatius in clear view? That’s what you’ll see on the scenic railway beside the blue beaches,” she says about the train route which traverses by former plantations through idyllic scenery which is big on volcanic formations.  

The scenic sugar train ride, a two hour journey on board a double decker train, is only one tourism product from a destination that Brown describes as “not mass” like so many others.

“We’re not going to duplicate and compete with the St. Martins. We understand that the visitor coming to St. Kitts wants to have an experience like no other.”

Besides St. Kitts, relatively a new kid on the tourism block, as Brown explains, has been quietly watching other Caribbean destinations strategize observing their successes and failures.

Still, “We didn’t jump into this, we approached tourism very carefully. We chose tourism to be our economy,” she says and adds, “People who have already done the Bahamas, Jamaica and Barbados and who say “what’s next?” will want to come here.”

St. Kitts is positioning itself as that next new Caribbean destination, the one that she describes as the last remaining quintessential Caribbean.

Who is the target audience? It’s the high income bracket. People who are willing to pay the extra for that authentic experience, people with the cash who prefer private jets, luxe marinas and like to golf at championship golf courses. Yes those people who crave five-star on the culinary and accommodation front.  

Canadians, the second largest tourism arrivals to St. Kitts, can anticipate some enhancements to what Brown describes as an already mature industry. “We’re ten years into this (tourism) and we are not re-inventing the wheel. We are investing in our infrastructure.”

Now for the list of new travel choices and happenings agents can expect:

Friendliness

Sure you and clients have been to islands where the locals have a quick smile but St. Kitts wants you to know friendliness starts as soon as you arrive at the airport. “We have immigration officers trained to do their job and they will welcome visitors too.”

Safety

Brown notes unlike some Caribbean destinations where visitors have to be mindful of surroundings, St. Kitts is safe. “You don’t have to worry about two things - safety and harassment. We do know in the Caribbean there are destinations that have to make a compelling story around safety and harassment issues.   That’s a non-factor for us and we’ll continue to invest in that to ensure that St. Kitts remains not only a quality experience from our tourist offers and product offers but an investment in the people.”

Short Cues

The Robert L. Bradshaw International Airport will increase the number of immigration officer booths to process visitors. Less queue time means more sun time.

Airport enhancement

A new private jet terminal designed with the affluent traveller in mind had a soft opening in May.

Imagine privacy and fast airport transfers in luxe limos to that posh vacation pad. These private jet terminal perks says Brown are also good for the client who wants all the bells and whistles in their dream island vacation but can’t afford to pay for a private jet. Personal VIP services will be available for a charge ideal for honeymooners.

Luxe Hotels

Five-star accommodations here we come. Watch for the highly anticipated opening of the 300-room Park Hyatt St. Kitts in early 2016 and the luxe Kittitian Hill property opening this December.

Cruise market

Repeat cruisers already know how close the cruise terminal is to downtown (try a 10 minute walk). The proximity allows for beach time before starting an excursion plus shopping and city sightseeing opportunities. The cruise terminal is also preparing to welcome bigger cruise liners such as the Oasis class ship in a second cruise pier at Port Zante expected to be completed in 2016.

Celebrities

“They all come,” says Brown who admits the local tourism office doesn’t make a habit in announcing when A-listers are around. Still if you need some names: Bill O’Reilly and Lionel Ritchie are known to frequent.

Golf and Sports Tourism

Golf’s gaining with the opening of two new golf courses. One is the 18-hole championship Irie Fields golf course scheduled to debut in December. Pegged as the world’s most edible golf course, expect to find gardens of sweet potatoes and potatoes in the non-playable areas. The eco-friendly golf course practices sustainable development growing pesticide-free plants. Then there’s the Park Hyatt St. Kitts Tom Fazio-designed golf course expected to open in 2016.

Authentic crafts

A big export is batik, you know the kind seen fluttering in the sea breezes at your last island resort. Well chances are it was made in St. Kitts. “This (batik) is one of the things that remains uniquely Caribbean where you get to see art being crafted. Remember when you see batik it’s from St. Kitts.”  Clients can head to the Caribelle Batik Factory located in the historic Romney manor, a former plantation home that has been beautifully restored.

Southern Peninsula

This is definitely one of a kind, beams Brown, on the huge vision now underway at Banana Bay, home to a new development spearheaded by the Christophe Harbour Development Company. Watch this already stunning beach spot turn into an exclusive 2,500-acre resort community ideal for future home owners who crave an island home away from home.

“In the southern peninsula you feel like you are home.” The tony enclave will have a yacht harbour, marina village, golf course and yes a private beach club. Phase One is scheduled to open in December. Known as Kittitian Hill the exclusive community will include an 84-unit cottage hotel known as the Belle Mont Farm , a residence villas named YaYa Groves and the 18-hole championship golf course Irie Fields. The harbour is also home to the future Park Hyatt St. Kitts.

St. Kitts, located in the northern Leeward Islands of the Caribbean, is a four hour direct flight from YYZ. Watch seasonal service with Air Canada resume December through April as well as with other airlines.

St. Kitts
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Ilona Kauremszky

A regular contributor to Travel Industry Today, Ilona is a prize winning journalist whose writing pursuits have taken her around the globe.

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