Minister of State – Richard Skerritt
Photo By Erasmus Williams
Basseterre, St. Kitts – Nevis
July 20, 2009 (CUOPM)
Tourism promotion and tourism product development are two of the ways in which the St. Kitts Ministry of Tourism has been incorporating awareness and protection of culture into the development process.
Minister of State with responsibility for Tourism, Sen. the Hon. Richard Skerritt during an address to mark the 20th Anniversary of the St. Christopher Heritage Society as he shared a few thoughts on the way forward for integrating the cultural heritage into the nation’s economic developmental goals and imperatives.
“In the context of nation building, culture is often seen as the missing pillar of development, and around the world; governments, donors and development organisations are increasingly beginning to acknowledge that if we ignore culture, we may be failing to engage with a crucial component of development,” Minister Skerritt said.
He pointed out that the Ministry of Tourism understands that visitor expenditure is a vital source of funding for the various projects and programmes which are critical to the survival of culture.
“For example, we are aware that it is the more than 50,000 annual visitors to the Brimstone Hill Fortress National Park, who fund the high cost of its restoration and ongoing maintenance. We also know that it is the uniqueness of “the sugar train” which has been one of the significant marketing pulls for the increasing number of cruise ships to Port Zante. It is this economic partnership between the cruise sector, the Scenic Railway Company and our Government which has kept the image of the historic sugar cane transportation system alive in our culture,” said Minister Skerritt.
He noted that it was only four years ago this month that the Sugar Industry was finally euthanized as the main economic driver in the economy. “I say euthanized because it was a necessary and timely assisted termination of its long declining commercial life. Closure of the industry was designed in the long run to benefit the development of our people, though bringing with it some hurtful unemployment and other social and political anxiety in the short term,” said Sen. Skerritt, pointing out that the closure of the sugar industry has opened the door for a more focused and vigorous venture into agricultural diversification and land reform, and has propelled tourism and related services forward in just a short few years to become the leading economic driver.
Closure of the centuries old industry has also exposed some of the cultural and historical assets of the sugar industry to public scavenging and environmental degradation. Along with the jobs and foreign exchange earnings, continued operations of the costly sugar industry had achieved what many had taken for granted, that of maintaining and preserving an important part of the history and the natural environment.
“That is why some 60 former SSMC workers are still employed today by the Ministry of Agriculture in order to oversee conservation and protection matters related to the assets of the former sugar industry. Two thirds of these employees are involved in securing such assets all over the island,” said Minister Skerritt, who noted that after some major challenges and setbacks, many of the artefacts and historical documents from the former SSMC have been collected and are being stored by the Ministry of Agriculture for possible use in a future heritage tourism project. He said that Belmont Estate has been identified as the site for such a sugar museum and related heritage interpretation centre.
He reiterated that his reference to the sugar industry is made in the context of sustaining the nation’s tourism product and the elements around it ““ heritage and culture, environment and communities.
“This has never been as critical as today in the face of several global challenges ““ especially the global economic crisis which has changed the tourism market place almost beyond recognition, and which requires more thoughtfulness and strategic decision-making than ever before,” said Skerritt, as he reiterated the key words: “Sustainable Tourism, Responsible Tourism, Heritage Tourism, and Environment Tourism.”
“These are buzz words in the travel industry that are inextricably linked to one another ““ sometimes referred to as niche tourism – but now playing an expanding role in many a destination’s tourism strategy – including our own,” said Skerritt.
Pointing out that the tourism market is now paying attention to its abundant heritage as a good reason to visit St Kitts, the St. Kitts Tourism Authority, led by the Ministry of Tourism, has begun to focus on attracting a traveller who seeks a more varied experience, someone who is looking to move out beyond the beach to interact with the whole destination, including its history, its people, its cuisine.
“Such a “˜destination traveller’ is looking to leave St. Kitts with more than a tan ““ they want to leave with an island experience. They are also likely to have spent more than average in their enjoyment of our destination. Based on a number of surveys that we recently conducted among travellers who have been to St. Kitts, we know that we are already beginning to serve this segment of the market. Visitors to St. Kitts do come for the sun, sea and sand, but much less so than before. They are also looking to visit our rich cultural and historical sites, eat at local restaurants, play a little golf, go for a dive, and relax at a spa. And marketing and airlift initiatives are in place to further increase the numbers of this type of traveller from international markets in the future,” said the Tourism Minister of State, who said that St. Kitts is on the right track “but I know that we can do better.”
“That is at least one more reason why we should all take more notice of our own heritage now.”