The twin-island federation of St Kitts and Nevis officially reopened its borders for International tourism on Oct. 31, and in the last three months has helped set an example to the rest of the region on how to undertake a safe tourism reopening amid the challenges of the pandemic.
To learn more, Caribbean Journal caught up with Lindsey F. P. Grant, St Kitts and Nevis’ Minister of Tourism, Transport and Ports.
Here’s what he had to say.
St Kitts and Nevis has been praised for one of the world’s top responses to COVID. Can you talk about that?
We reopened our borders on October 31st with some of the most complete and comprehensive travel requirements in the Caribbean. It has been challenging, but the health and safety of our citizens, residents and visitors is tantamount to us.
Our testing requirements have been more stringent than other destinations, but it has kept the number of cases to 39, 3 current right now, with no community spread and no deaths.
What do travelers need to know about entering the country?
Currently international travelers are asked to abide by the following requirements for entry.
You must take a RT-PCR test within 72 hours of travel to St. Kitts & Nevis. Results of the test must be uploaded online along with the KNA travel form and proof of booking at a Travel Approved hotel. Once this form is submitted, travelers will receive an approval letter to enter the Federation.
Upon arrival travelers will undergo a health check and if they are showing symptoms they may be asked to take a Covid test. Travelers should keep in mind that we are only accepting the nasophyrangeal RT-PCR test administered by a medical professional. Persons with saliva, at-home or antigen tests will not be granted entry.
For the first two weeks of their stay guests can “vacation in place” at their hotel. They are welcome to move about the property and partake in hotel activities. They will undergo serial testing on day 7 and 14 of their stay.
For those that test negative on day 7, the will be approved to partake in select tours that take them to Basseterre, Timothy Hill Overlook and Brimstone Hill Fortress.
Those who test negative on day 14 are welcome to integrate into the Federation and move about freely.
All travelers are required to take an exit PCR test 48-72 hour prior to departure from St. Kitts. Having that in place already, the new CDC requirements on return travel did not affect us.
How has the reopening gone so far?
We have been open for three months and have been welcoming visitors from around the world to our beautiful islands.
Tourism is slowly but surely rebounding. Globally, there has been a recent slow down due to the emergence of the variant strains of Covid-19 and we are experiencing that along with everyone else. But the fact remains – we are continuing to welcome visitors with every incoming flight.
As tourism has resumed, we have more and more hotel properties opening to both international travelers and for returning nationals/residents. In fact, we most recently announced the opening of Montpelier Plantation & Beach for international travelers.
The “Awake Your Sense of Wander” our current campaign, has been used to redefine and position what it means to “wander” while you “vacation in place”. This includes allowing your mind and spirit to wander, marveling at the beauty of St. Kitts and allowing the serene beauty of the island to reinvigorate your energies.
With vaccination programs underway, we are also focusing on promoting travel to the island for Q4. In fact, as we anticipate seeing a strong Q4 in Caribbean travel, and have some exciting news in the coming weeks as we kick off our push for peak season 2021 – 2022.
What have you learned so far about safe reopening?
We’ve learned that our people are very resilient and eager to do what is necessary to stay healthy and safe.
We’ve learned that while no one has the right answer, we have seen that our travel requirements and opening procedures have helped us maintain low rates of Covid 19, no deaths and no community spread.
We have been fortunate that, unlike other destinations, we have not been put in a position where a surge in cases leads to an additional shutdown.
We have learned the importance of our Travel approved Certification and Seal Program. Over 4,600 persons have undergone training through the program, at no cost to them. Government has paid for this training as we understand the impact Covid 19 has on the tourism industry and our economy as a whole.
St Kitts and Nevis has been adding more hotels to its list of approved “vacation in place” properties for International travelers. Can you talk about what goes into that process?
For a hotel to reopen, their hotel staff is required to undergo Travel Approved training specific to the sector and operational function. The hotel must meet a specific outline of requirements and an inspection by the Ministry of Tourism and the Department of Health in order to receive its seal of approval to operate.
Some of the health and safety practices these properties are required to follow as part of the program includes installing hand sanitizing stations in all high traffic areas, maintain cleanliness of all high traffic areas and ensuring that rooms are thoroughly cleaned and sanitized between guests.
Specifically, the “Travel Approved” program achieves two things: It offers “Travel Approved” training for tourism stakeholders and awards the “Travel Approved” seal to those businesses which meet both the St. Kitts Tourism Authority and Ministry of Health inspections standards.
It also allows for St. Kitts and Nevis on their respective websites, to promote those business entities that have received the “Travel Approved” seal. Those without the seal are not approved for visitors.
The Travel Approved hotels that are currently open to international travelers are the Four Seasons, Golden Rock Inn, Marriott Vacation Beach Club, Montpelier Plantation & Beach, Paradise Beach, Park Hyatt St. Kitts, Royal St. Kitts and St. Kitts Marriott.
St. Kitts and Nevis is not an all-inclusive destination but our hotels have taken the necessary steps to ensure that guests enjoy their “vacation in place” experience and leave our island restored and reenergized.
Some of the activities in which guests can partake, depending where they are staying, include everything from swimming in the ocean or pool, watersport activities (kayaking, paddle boarding, snorkeling, sailing) to spa treatments, from pottery classes to stargazing, beach bonfires and mixology experiences.
After 7 days of vacation in place those who test negative for Covid 19 will then be able to partake in the Highlights of St. Kitts Tour.
Visitors can enjoy local flavors and cuisine from the comfort of their hotel. Local delivery apps like 869 To Go and CaribEats are actively delivering to these hotels from restaurants around the island.
St Kitts and Nevis has increasingly been popular among yachters. How has that improved during the pandemic?
St. Kitts and Nevis remains a secluded, off-the-beaten-path destination and this is highly appealing to yachters, as well as land based visitors especially at a time when they are seeking a quiet getaway.
The world-class marina at Christophe Harbour is currently open to yachts over 80 feet in length and provides easy access to provisions and services to assist with “vacation in place” aboard your vessel.
Vessels under 80 feet can choose to anchor at three different areas: Ballast Bat, Pinney’s beach and Gallows allowing them a choice for where they’d like spend their time.
We’ve seen more Caribbean countries offer long-term stay options for travelers. Is that something St Kitts and Nevis might consider?
Currently visa requirements allow persons to stay for 90 days on island and we encourage visitors like digital nomads to consider spending a month or two on St. Kitts. While they will need to vacation in place for the first two weeks, afterwards they will be able to integrate into the Federation and experience everything our twin islands have to offer.
After the two week period, per our travel requirements, persons must leave the Travel Approved hotel and change to alternate accommodations and our wide variety of condominium accommodations and villas makes that very easy.
As for a longer stay traveler visa, we working with other government agencies for example immigration, to identify what St. Kitts can offer. We know it is in demand for our demographic.
What is your tourism outlook for the rest of 2021 and 2022?
With vaccination programs in our three major source markets underway, the US, Canada and the UK, we anticipate a significant pick up in travel in Q4, beginning the official restart of Tourism, since the pandemic began last year.
All industry forecasts indicate significant pent up demand, particularly amongst persons who are eager to travel once they have been vaccinated. For that reason, we will look at Q3 and or Q4 to launch our promotional campaign to get heads in beds.
Our hope for 2022 is that travel will once again become widespread and that cruise will resume.
Cruise has been a great success for us we reached the 1 million passenger mark in 2018 and again in 2019, we were on track to reach this milestone again in 2020 before Covid set in. The success of the roll out of the vaccines in US, the UK and Europe will help cruise resume to St. Kitts and Caribbean. So we wait patiently and are optimistic it will return.
What gives you optimism for the future?
First and foremost the resilience of the Kittitian and Nevisian people. Our “All of Society Approach” has been critical in managing the number of Covid cases in the Federation. And the willingness of our people to continually abide by the protocols to avoid “community spread.”
The positive news of the efficacy of various vaccines has added to my optimism and seeing these vaccination programs underway in our source markets in the U.S., Canada and the U.K. Most importantly the roll of our own vaccination plan in the Federation for our people, late March/early April through our participation in the COVAX Facility, Astra Zeneca vaccine.
Lastly, I’ve seen the eagerness of persons who love to travel, wanting to return St. Kitts and Nevis. Despite our comprehensive restrictions, we’ve seen hundreds of persons travel to St. Kitts and Nevis and they’ve thoroughly enjoyed their experience, even though they’ve only scratched the surface of what our twin-islands offer. I know that they will come back and that they will share stories of their great time in St. Kitts and Nevis with their friends and family.
For more, visit St Kitts Tourism.