Speaking at Thursday, 25th November’s sitting of the Federal Parliament, Skerritt explained that his ministry initiated a number of “timely, decisive and strategic steps…to manage the damage control and recovery efforts for our destination brand image in our visitor target markets”.
On Sunday, 14th November, 2010, 17 tourists who, were travelling aboard a tour bus en route to Brimstone Hill, were attacked and robbed by masked and armed gunmen. The incident attracted regional and international attention and threatened to derail the progress which the Federation had made in establishing itself as a marketable tourist attraction.
Skerritt, in his report to Parliament, indicated that his ministry sprang into action to implement the following short-term objectives:
The tourism Minister said, following the incident, he realised that time was of the essence and understood the importance of making critical and strategic decisions in quickly in order to effectively manage the situation.
“I immediately telephoned the Sam Condor, Acting Prime Minister at the time, and Minster of National Security, to ensure he was aware of the incident and that the Police had begun to investigate the crime and to indicate our desire to work closely with him. Tourism was then able to provide input into the first police press release which was issued by the Police High Command later that Sunday afternoon and distributed internationally as widely as possible.”
Skerritt explained that the second leg of his ministry’s plan was for him to make personal contact with the Celebrity Cruise Line and Princess Cruises to inform them of the incident.
“My second action was to speak directly to my main contact at the affected cruise line, personally relaying the information of the event to him so that I would be the first to reveal the bad news to him and his colleagues. I spoke first to Celebrity Cruise Line, whose ship Celebrity Mercury had brought the victims to St Kitts and whose ship Celebrity Summit was due to visit the following day, Monday. I later spoke to top officials of Princess Cruises whose ship Emerald Princess was also docked here on Sunday to confirm that none of their passengers had been involved.
“The fact that the Summit’s Monday call was not cancelled is testimony to the level of trust for the safety of our destination that I was able to communicate with top decision-makers of RCCL/Celebrity even in the midst of crisis. My direct communications with Cruise Line decision-makers has continued on a daily basis up to and including this morning.”
The Minister’s next course of action, as he outlined, was to give information about the unprecedented and unfortunate incident to St. Kitts’ Tourism Authority Communications manager and also the New York and London media consultants. He explained that his request to them was to “activate our Crisis Communications Plan immediately, while confirming with them what the public relations message and theme will be. The plan, which provides a well-conceived and clearly defined process, triggers the monitoring of traditional and social media responses to the incident and provides well-tested tactics for dealing with the media in target markets.”
In addition, Skerritt indicated that he instructed senior members of the Tourism Authority to meet personally with the victims of the unthinkable act to assure “them that the perpetrators would be hunted down and brought to justice”.
Describing the 14th November 2010 incident as “an extremely loud alarm bell and a serious wake up call for all and sundry”, Skerritt assured that, “It will be used to shape the way forward strategically for my ministry.” He also said it is a call for all to “get more aggressive and effective about safety and security for us and for our visitors.”
It is on this premise that Minister Skerritt promised that, “Our Tourism Industry’s future Safety and Security Agenda will incorporate six interrelated components: visitor protection; protection of local staff, i.e. all tourism stakeholder staff; site protection ecological management; economic protection and reputation protection.”
He assured that details to these components will be revealed shortly.