Travel Pulse- Like many Caribbean destinations, dual-island nation St. Kitts and Nevis was headed toward another strong tourism season in 2020 before the COVID-19 pandemic struck.
The destination had reached historic highs in air arrivals just prior to the March travel disruption, with visitors drawn to the country’s mixture of beautiful beaches, historic attractions, watersports and diverse hotels and resorts.
The Caribbean country re-opened last fall following the establishment of a comprehensive system of protocols designed to enable the return of visitors from the United States and Canada, the destination’s two largest markets. We spoke with Raquel Brown, CEO of the St. Kitts Tourism Authority, to learn the details behind the country’s tourism relaunch.
TP: How did St. Kitts and Nevis approach the re-entry of visitors to the twin-island nation?
RB: “We reopened on October 31st with some of the most complete and comprehensive travel requirements in the Caribbean. The Federation is home to only 53,000 nationals and residents. It was for this reason our border reopening was delayed, to ensure we would mitigate community spread, the number of cases and deaths.”
TP: What does the entry process entail?
RB: “Under our current requirements travelers must take a nasopharyngeal RT-PCR test, administered by a medical professional, 72 hours prior to departure. They must submit a negative test result and [secure] a confirmed booking at a ‘Travel Approved’ hotel with the completed KNA travel form. Once complete and reviewed, the traveler will receive an approval letter to enter the Federation which they must present when boarding their flight.”
TP: What sort of protocols are in place in the destination?
RB: “Once they are on island, travelers are asked to ‘vacation in place’ at their Travel Approved hotel, where they are free to move about the property, dine at restaurants, use available amenities and partake in activities that the various hotels are offering.
“While they are vacationing in place they are asked to undergo serial testing on day seven and day 14, if they are staying for that length of time. If they test negative on day seven, they will be able to partake in select excursions and tours on the island. All travelers are also required to take an exit PCR test 48 to 72 hours before departing the Federation.”
TP: What do you think is driving the return of visitors?
RB: “While the [protocols] may seem daunting, we have seen that pent-up demand is driving persons to vacation in St. Kitts, particularly persons who are seeking an uncrowded destination which abides by a complete set of rules that allow us to keep case rates low giving travelers some peace of mind.”
TP: Is there sufficient airlift to the destination?
RB: “Since reopening we have resumed airlift service on American Airlines from Miami, flying three times weekly; on United Airlines from Newark, flying weekly on Saturdays; on Seaborne from San Juan, Puerto, flying twice weekly; and on LIAT, which has daily flights to St. Kitts from the British Virgin Islands and Antigua. American Airlines is also resuming weekly flights from Charlotte starting Saturday, April 3. So, as you can see we are slowly but surely expanding our airlift schedule and reopening routes allowing more persons to visit St. Kitts.”
TP: What were the primary concerns when the country re-opened its borders?
RB: “Our primary concern was how travelers would react to our existing requirements, which at that time were quite comprehensive compared to other Caribbean destinations. However, the health and safety of our citizens, residents as well as visitors was tantamount for us and we continued to focus on promoting the “vacation in place” experience.
“Though it may not allow you to wander freely about the island and interact with our warm and welcoming people, you still get to experience the beauty of our island and enjoy a getaway that leaves one feeling restored and reenergized.”
TP: What are the protocols you identified as key to permitting a return of visitors?
RB: “The Ministry of Health and Covid-19 Task Force worked diligently to review all information provided by the World Health Organization (WHO) and reviewed the requirements put in place by other destinations that had reopened. We identified what practices worked best and incorporated them into our existing travel requirements.
“Our contract tracing is very detailed and thorough. We inform and monitor all persons who have come in contact with the traveler. Meanwhile, the travel corridor between the airport and the hotels allows us to minimize direct contact between visitors and locals and protect against potential community spread. “
TP: How has the government work with travel stakeholders to implement the new procedures?
RB: “Through our Travel Approved Training and Seal certification program, over 4,900 individuals working in the tourism industry in the Federation of St. Kitts and Nevis have undergone training, paid for and provided by the Ministry of Tourism, St. Kitts Tourism Authority and Ministry of Health, to ensure we operate safely.
“All hotels open to international travelers and returning nationals and residents are required to receive the Travel Approved certificate which indicates that business meet both the St. Kitts Tourism Authority and Ministry of Health inspections standards.”
TP: St. Kitts and Nevis has established separate hotels for different categories of guests. Why was this step taken, and what has been the result?
RB: “Currently hotels are split into two categories: mandatory quarantine in a government-approved facility for nationals and residents and those open to international travelers for vacation-in-place [visitors]. Hotels in both categories are required to have their staff trained and hotel inspected to receive the Travel Approved seal to operate.
“The Travel Approved hotels for vacation-in-place are geared towards international visitors who are most likely to be in St. Kitts for a short stay. These hotels provide onsite programming for a fulfilling experience allowing visitors to safely engage in a variety of activities including non-motorized water sports, fitness, spa and more.”
TP: How have the new protocols impacted the St. Kitts and Nevis travel experience?
RB: “Earlier this year we launched our new campaign ‘Awake Your Sense of Wander’ and redefined and positioned what that means within the current travel requirements. This includes allowing your mind and spirit to wander, marveling at the loveliness of St. Kitts and allowing the serene beauty of the island to reinvigorate your energies.
“St. Kitts is a destination for the discerning traveler who is eager to explore, to see the rainforest, the beaches, to taste our food, learn about our culture and explore our markets.”