You'll be seeing a lot more from St. Kitts in the Canadian marketplace if Racquel Brown has anything to say about it.
The CEO of the St. Kitts Tourism Authority paid a visit to Toronto last week, sharing the message that this dual-island destination is open for business and ready to welcome more international visitors. Brown is originally from Jamaica but made the move to St. Kitts at the beginning of 2014 from a role in the Cayman Islands. Speaking with PAX, she shared her love for her new home and said the things that attract her to the destination are also characteristics that attract vacationers - the natural beauty, the friendly people and the authentic experiences throughout.
Although St. Kitts & Nevis continue to see increased visitation numbers from North America as its largest source market, Brown acknowledged that there is still work to do, and a lot of that comes down to educating consumers and travel agents on the product.
The tourism industry is still relatively new here as sugar was the primary economic pillar up until 2005. Although this poses a challenge as St. Kitts tries to "catch up" to longer-regarded Caribbean tourism hotspots, it's also part of the appeal.
"The brand is just not known out there within all the noise," Brown said, referring to competiton in the marketplace. "Educating the consumer is the most important thing; getting our brand out there." The tourism authority planning "a very strategic and very aggressive marketing plan" to build brand awareness, with a target of seeing return for the 2016 peak season.
A new master plan speaks to the importance of educating the discerning traveller specifically, because of St. Kitts' position as a higher-end destination.
"These are person who, four times a year, they take a vacation. [They don't choose a destination] just because of partying or because a show is happening - they want to go somewhere to have that authentic experience. That's who we're appealing to."
And authentic experiences is where the island shines, according to Brown, who pointed to cultural and historical attractions such as the Scenic Railway.
"Every Caribbean country has sun, beach and sand," Brown said. "Not everyone has an authentic experience, and that's why I like St. Kitts."
She also noted the safety aspect of the island, where visitors can freely roam the streets after dark and not feel threatened or insecure.
It's not the type of destination that can support mass tourism - the landscape doesn't allow for massive property developments - but it does continue to develop in order to welcome new clientele. Opening soon is Kittitian Hill which will be managed by Sedona Resorts and the first new property to open on the island in 10 years. The five-star property will boast a very "local experience" in design and cuisine, plus an 18-hole golf course.
Ground has been broken for a new Park Hyatt as well, set to open in 2016. Other developments are on the books as well for the coming years.
Airlift out of Canada is one area where Brown sees opportunity for growth, especially as the in-destination accommodations grow to support more tourist arrivals. Not only is Toronto a key market, but she is also looking to Western gateways where the demographic suits the destination's target clientele.
Cruise arrivals continue to be a strength for St. Kitts & Nevis, as major lines now have regular scheduled stops thanks to the diversity of activities on the islands - from cultural and historical, to soft adventure, to sand and sun.
Photo: Of the St. Kitts Tourism Authority, Racquel Brown, CEO and Carolyn James, director, Canada