As has become customary with the World Travel Market (WTM) in London each year since 1980, there is a flurry of travel and tourism deals being done. Last year, 2014 it was estimated that around £2.5 billion in travel industry contracts between exhibitors and buyers from the WTM Buyers’ Club were done. This demonstrates the global importance of this event and justifies the Caribbean’s participation.
The Caribbean has long been associated with the WTM as the region sees it as one of the leading global events for the travel industry and a place to agree business deals with international exhibitors and discuss the current issues facing the travel and tourism sector with the experts. It is the place where Caribbean travel and tourism professionals get insights on aviation, travel industry optimism, the future holiday experience, airport capacity and taxes.
Notwithstanding both the real and perceived benefits of participation in the now world renown WTM, many Caribbean countries have had to scale back their involvement in recent years, largely due to pressing local matters taking precedence over the promotion of the destination at a costly international trade show abroad. The general reduction in visitors to the Caribbean since the global economic downturn of 2008 / 2009 has impacted revenues that would otherwise have enabled continuous participation in World Travel Market by many islands.
In spite of the Caribbean as a whole showing encouraging growth in the first half of 2015 at 7%, several individual countries are registering lower than normal visitor numbers. Antigua and Barbuda is one country showing positive signs that the investment in perfecting their tourism product is indeed beginning to pay off handsomely.
CaribDirect Multi-Media’s publisher David F Roberts, caught up with the Chief Executive Officer of the Antigua and Barbuda Tourism Authority, Mr Colin James at the World Travel Market 2015 in Excel London.
Q. How is Antigua and Barbuda performing?
A. We are very pleased and proud with Antigua and Barbuda’s performance where we are seeing 11% to 13% in UK market. A few travel agents have told us we are the best selling product in the Caribbean for them. As a matter of fact we one a few travel awards this year including, Best Tourist Board working with travel agents in UK. We also have new flights coming out of Europe; we expect a weekly charter called Alitalia from Italy starting in early December 20 2015. This will increase the current amount of Italians visiting the island from 10,000 to much higher figures. Condor weekly from Frankfurt every Monday also Thomas Cook out of Manchester, daily flights from British Airways and four flights a week from Virgin.
We also have a brand new airport terminal, one of the largest in Caribbean that can accommodate 2 million passengers a year, processing approximately 17000 passengers per hour with the new terminal accommodating up 2000 passengers in the departure lounge. It is fully solar powered ensuring a very low carbon footprint; 4 jet bridges, pet toilet facilities for passengers with their hairy companions. We are pleased that the new terminal at the VC Bird International Airport was opened in September 2015. We pride ourselves on being able to process customers through immigration within 20 to 30 seconds per customer ensuring an unparalleled and unsurpassed holiday experience.
Q. How does Antigua and Barbuda rank in terms of safety?
A. Antigua and Barbuda is a very safe destination. Like most Caribbean countries we have our fair share of homicides not exceeding single digits and not involving visitors. We have done a lot to ensure safety, by installing closed circuit television cameras in heavily populated areas frequented by visitors supported by highly trained police officers who are very vigilant. We believe that the strong repeat clientele that we see coming through to the island is a testimony to the investment we have made in the security of our visiting guests. We have a reputation for hosting great weddings and have been recognised this year as the weddings and honeymoon destination in the Caribbean.
Q. What is ratio between all inclusive and EP hotels in Antigua and Barbuda?
A. The ratio in Antigua and Barbuda is about 60 / 40 in favour of All Inclusive properties. The All Inclusive plan is better for the visitor to plan and budget. The industry is gradually moving toward this being the norm now as visitors are more preoccupied with value for money than anything else. However, choice is important as some travelers may prefer to mix up their arrangements to include food or drinks off property. A good mix of property type helps make destination sustainable as we have experienced when the recession struck a few years ago as a few properties that specialised at the high end of the market struggled to maintain bookings and succumbed. I believe the destination should cater to different market segments enabling travel agents to fill planes.
Q. How is Antigua and Barbuda managing scarce water supply with growing tourism?
A. Traditionally Antigua and Barbuda has been known as a destination blessed with lots of sunshine with little rainfall. This has actually worked well for us as many travellers whether business or holiday who live in very cold countries welcome the opportunity to spend a week to two weeks in a destination that almost guarantees wall to wall blue skies and pristine beaches. Our water conservation efforts have come a long way to help alleviate the water shortage problem, our desalination plants in Antigua and Barbuda have been very effective in ensuring a continuous and reliable source of potable water for both our visitors and locals alike. Most hotels on the island are Green Globe Certified, and have programs that help to reduce energy consumption that work well with guests such as dirty towel management. If a guest leaves a towel on the floor it’s to be washed but if it’s hung on the rail it’s to be reused and so on. Many of the large properties have their own desalination plants to meet their guests needs independently thereby eliminating many of the problems previously associated with water shortages and drought.
Q. Has Antigua and Barbuda’s Citizenship by Investment Program (CIP) helped to attract new visitors to the island?
A. Actually the CIP has been a strong revenue earner for Antigua and Barbuda. In fact the Antigua and Barbuda CIP is regarded as the best in the Caribbean because of the due diligence that we do which is conducted by third party individuals. Our program is very attractive to countries such as China because Antigua and Barbuda citizenship gives passport holders visa free access to over 70 countries around the world including Britain, Canada and many European countries. It provides these new citizens the opportunity to build second homes and set up legitimate businesses thereby stimulating economic growth on the island. We are ranked at 3rd in world which is a phenomenal achievement and we are very proud particularly as we started this program only 2 years ago.
Q. Has the United States of America’s branding of Antigua and Barbuda as a tax haven affected the islands’ ability to market the destination?
A. No. I think it might have enhanced our ability to attract investment because as a sovereign state we have to implement policies that will ensure our survival and legitimate tax programs are there for all to enjoy. It’s funny how places like Guernsey, Isle of Man, and others in the first world are known to be tax havens but nobody threatens them but we in the Caribbean are unfairly dealt with. I think if our policies help to attract legitimate businesses or credible individuals to the island that will help build the country through the use of off shore banking and financial services, I have no problem.
Q. Any final points?
A. Yes. Next year we will be celebrating 60 years of Antigua and Barbuda carnival on the island and we’re looking to attract as many diaspora Antiguans and other Caribbean nationals to visit and celebrate with us.
We are putting together packages and tours with our reps here for all to enjoy particularly as the summer months are softer for business. We want to be first in the Caribbean for travel and tour services and we’re working extremely hard for this. I’d like to thank our travel agents and tour operators for the excellent work they are doing to make us one of the premiere destinations of the Caribbean.