While tourism officials are celebrating Antigua’s 100,000th over-night visitor, former United States Director of Tourism Derede Samuel Whitlock said this milestone should have occurred sooner.
Jean Larsen and her partner Denis Murphy, from the US, were hosted at the V C Bird International Airport yesterday in a VIP ceremony, but Samuel-Whitlock said with just one more day left before the curtains close on 2016, the numbers suggest there was a decline in air arrivals for 2015.
“Two years ago we were 5,000 away from the target, so I am very surprised that here we are at the end of 2016 celebrating, what in my mind is not significant growth. If we were at 95,000, then there must have been a sharp decline of about 15 per cent that would bring us to 100,000 in 2016,” she told OBSERVER media yesterday.
This is the first time the country, of an estimated population of more than 90,000 has achieved this milestone.
Whitlock said if government plans to continue growing the US market to fill shortfalls in the UK and Canada, there is a lot to be done.
“If you compare the stats, the US has surpassed the UK market. Since 2007 it has consistently grown,” Samuel-Whitlock said, commending the government for now focusing its efforts on the US market since the drop in air arrivals following Brexit.
The former tourism executive said, however, room availability is one of the major issues affecting the growth of the US market.
“It is so unfortunate that we have so many hotels that the room stock is dated and they need to be upgraded. When you look at a combination Halcyon, Jolly Beach, Hawksbill and Royals Antigua –the legacy properties that can use some upgrades, and in some instances some of the rooms are not operational. Between those four properties, we are looking at about 30 per cent of our room stock,” Samuel Whitlock added.