By Lindsay F.P. Grant Minister of Tourism, Transport and Ports,
Mr. Speaker, just over two weeks ago on October 31, 2020, seven months after closing our international borders to help curb the spread of Covid 19, St. Kitts & Nevis reopened and welcomed visitors from around the world. We had been preparing for this day for a long time, working with our medical professionals to develop a two phased plan that would allow us to safely and responsibly reopen.
We established specific entry and travel requirements for our visitors; we developed protocols to keep our frontline workers, citizens and residents safe and conducted training for stakeholders in every sector of the industry in those health and safety protocols. We created the Travel Approved program which awards a Travel Approved certificate and seal for stakeholders successfully completing the training and inspection of their operations, respectively.
Mr. Speaker, we collaborated with our airline partners to establish our airlift schedule for November, including American Airlines service from Miami, Seaborne service from San Juan and starting this past Saturday, Winair service from St. Maarten. For the month of November, all airlines will operate weekly Saturday service. Additionally, starting on November 21, American Airlines will add Wednesday and Sunday rotations to accommodate those traveling for US Thanksgiving. While British Airways was previously scheduled to start November 7th, their service was temporarily suspended due to the UK one-month national lockdown.
Our first commercial flights landed on November 7 disembarking a total of 100 passengers arriving on American Airlines from Miami and Seaborne from San Juan. The passengers were proficiently processed through RLB International Airport and transported to their accommodations using 29 Travel Approved Taxi Operators. These operators averaged two jobs each and earned fares ranging from 16 USD to 28 USD.
Mr. Speaker, our visitors were lodged at 6 different accommodations: our international visitors (Non-Nationals/Non-Residents) stayed at the Four Seasons Resort, Park Hyatt and Royal St. Kitts Hotel. Our Nationals and Residents stayed at Ocean Terrace Inn, Oualie Beach Resort, Potworks and the Royal St. Kitts Hotel, which also received 39 students.
As Phase I continues, I am very pleased to report 4314 persons out of 5000 in the Tourism Industry have completed the Travel Approved training at no expense to the individual. In St. Kitts, 2814 persons have been trained, as have 1500 persons in Nevis. While the accommodations sector, the SCASPA & Airport Team and Taxi Operators have trained the largest number of persons, every sector in the Tourism Industry has been represented in the classes.
Mr. Speaker, having provided a benchmark from our first visitor arrivals and our progress towards achieving full training of our Tourism Industry sector, I would like to take a moment to look forward and review our position as we move toward peak season 2020 and beyond.
The Federation’s current hotel room inventory for international travelers is comprised of 188 rooms at the Four Seasons, 40 rooms at Paradise Beach, 114 rooms at the Park Hyatt and 56 rooms at the Royal St Kitts.
Our inventory will increase on November 21 when the Marriott Beach Vacation Club opens with 88 rooms, on December 4 when Koi Resort opens with 102 rooms and on December 15 when the Marriott Resort opens with 75 rooms. With an additional 30 rooms in villas, condos and apartments we will go into peak season with a total projected room stock of 693 rooms approved for international visitors.
Mr. Speaker, as we approach what would be our normal peak season travel, we must take note that the second wave of the pandemic on the rise in many countries around the world, including in our key source markets, and is impacting travel intent and behavior.
Mr. Speaker, the US surpassed its own records of new cases and deaths last week and the fall surge of the coronavirus continues to run rampant across a great part of the country. Public health officials are cautioning against large family gatherings over the holidays, as Americans plan to celebrate with only family members living in the household or by traveling to “get away” from it all. Airlines are adding domestic and Caribbean capacity to handle the increased holiday demand, a demand we can see reflected in American’s inbound loads from Miami. Upcoming load factors into St. Kitts are: 77% on Nov. 21; 58% on Nov. 22; 49% on Nov. 25; 50% Nov. 28 and 60% outbound from St. Kitts to Miami on Nov. 29. Arriving December flights on the 5th and the 12th are 76% and 70 % respectively. We are told by the airlines that they see much shorter booking lead times as travelers wait until the last minute to make decisions, with some last-minute cancellations as well.
Mr. Speaker, in the UK, a one-month national lockdown aimed at curbing the rapid spread of the virus was put in place on Thursday November 5 and is scheduled to be lifted December 2, as long as the numbers of cases and rapid spread decreases. The government has asked people to stay at home and limit their interactions with others outside their pandemic bubble. With the projected short-term nature of the lockdown, British Airways will have their Winter Sun Campaign, which St. Kitts and Nevis is a part of in the market from November 9 – November 23, 2020. This is to drive awareness and bookings for the Federation from April 2021 to December 2021. As a partner destination, St. Kitts and Nevis will be allowed a lead in price for a round-trip air travel and 7 nights’ accommodation which will be featured in customized creative on BA’s social media channels and in the press where a specific St. Kitts and Nevis call to action will be listed.
Mr. Speaker, Canada gained recognition for efficiently handling the virus last spring and summer, but unfortunately did not escape the fall surge in cases. Health officials report Thursday was the worst day for new infections since the beginning of the crisis last spring, particularly in Ontario and Quebec. Experts suggest that a relaxing of the health and safely protocols and large family gatherings in homes for Canadian Thanksgiving may have triggered the spike.
Air Canada has also become a victim of the crisis. The Air Canada service was scheduled to commence October 31st, then rescheduled for November 21st and the December 5th. A 90% decrease in demand from last year caused unsustainable losses and with no indication of government intervention, Air Canada undertook a drastic series of route suspensions. Unfortunately, this included St. Kitts. There will be no Air Canada flight this year, however, Air Canada management has indicated that the flight will resume in fall 2021. Our pre-pandemic load factors of 86% were excellent and the destination had been active in the marketplace with what Air Canada has called “sophisticated and forward-thinking” marketing.
Mr. Speaker, this summarizes our status at this point and ends my report. As we have noted before, our performance under Phase 1 will dictate what will take place in Phase 2. I am confident that if our citizens and residents continue to follow the health and safety guidelines and take accountability for their own behavior, we will keep our destination safe and responsibly keep our borders open. Our unique and authentic tourism product continues to inspire visitors to travel to our shores, visitors who in turn contribute to our socio-economic growth and the improved livelihoods for us all.
Main Photo: Lindsay Grant, Minister of Tourism, Transport and Ports.