Basseterre, St. Kitts – The damage caused by hurricanes Irma and Maria to neighbouring islands could have a negative impact on tourism for the 2017-2018 cruise season set to open next month, according to the tourism minister, the Honourable Lindsay Grant.

Grant stated that the tourism sector here in St. Kitts and Nevis will be affected because of the demise of other territories in the eastern Caribbean, which could also lead to demise here as all territories will suffer from the severely damaged ports.

“We were expecting a bumper season [of] 1.2 million passengers,” Grant stated, adding that is not likely to happen at the moment. “Why? The marquee ports in the region in the Eastern Caribbean are no more: St. Maarten, BV, St. Thomas and Puerto Rico. [Those] home ports [were where] most of our ships [came from are] non-existent. That is the challenge we are dealing with on a daily basis as we speak.”

He added that a delegation from here is set to travel next week to engage cruise liners to try and soften the impact that may be felt in the territories spared the ravages of the hurricanes. “If we do not engage them,” he said, “then we are in for a torrid 2017-2018 cruise season.”

Grant later in an interview with media operatives indicated that they have been in contact with the itinerary planners on a daily basis and will meet cruise liners in Miami next week, along with officials from St. Lucia and Antigua and Barbuda.

“I have actually spoken to Prime Minster of St. Lucia Allan Chastanet and the Minister of Tourism in Antigua and Barbuda to see how we can collaborate to make up for the lost ports in the eastern Caribbean,” he said. He further added that no matter how good our product is, the cruise liners will come to St. Kitts alone as they need other destinations to visit.

“With the absence of Puerto Rico, St. Thomas, the BVI and St. Maarten, we have a real void in which we have to fill.,” he said. “So hopefully next week when we meet in Miami…we can effectively and collectively engaged the cruise lines to reconsider whatever it is that can put the Eastern Caribbean in a better position.”

He explained that with current circumstances, the western Caribbean will not be as affected and will benefit from losses in the eastern Caribbean, and added that they are trying to lessen the impact of damages.

The tourism minister was asked what pitch do they have planned to try to convince officials of the cruise liners, and admitted that some ships will be lost.

“That is under advisement, so I can’t say at the moment, but we have to sweeten the pot and also see to it that we are not a detriment to the country,” he said. “It is a touchy situation, and we are going to lose some ships, but we are going to see what we can do as much as possible to pull back some. We don’t want to benefit from the tragedy of others, but the reality is we have to do something. We try to do our best to fill the void for them because at the end of the day, our success is their success and the region’s success.”

Grant also discussed how Port Zante fared during the passage of the storms. “We did some physical inspection of the port itself and nothing came up as far as I am advised,” he said. “A sonar inspection should have taken place and as far as I am aware, nothing significant has arisen, so we are open for business.”

Nick Mennon, president of the Hotel and Tourism Association (HTA), also spoke of the impact of the damaged ports on the entire eastern Caribbean.

“The first wave of impact we are seeing is with the cruise industry,” he said. “The absolute decimation of our neighbouring ports has left us and Antigua standing alone in the Eastern Caribbean and leaves a question mark, whether there will be an East Caribbean cruise tour for next season, which starts next week.”