By Shermain Bique-Charles
As major cruise lines prepare their fleets for a return to the seas in the Covid-19 era, a few months from now the twin island nation is determined to cash in on the much-needed tourism dollars.
Already delayed by more than six months, the once buoyant cruise season is expected to make a comeback this summer, and Antigua and Barbuda’s Minister of Tourism Charles Fernandez has confirmed that discussions have begun to ensure the country falls in line with the new changes.
“Cruises should start for the Caribbean possibly in June or July and we are now looking to see what protocols we have in place here and what protocols they would be putting in place and to see what we can do to ensure we are ready,” he said.
The arrival of coronavirus vaccines, Fernandez said, is expected to be a major game changer for the cruise sector.
“That is why it is so important that we get the vaccines out as quickly as it is possible,” he said.
Dona Regis-Prosper, general manager of Antigua Cruise Port, told Observer on Tuesday that the destination was getting a lot of interest from cruise lines but warned that St John’s was unlikely to see ships return before autumn. They will initially be staying closer to the US mainland for test cruises and shorter voyages, she explained.
Meanwhile, discussions are also being held with airlines about the possibility of increasing routes to the country.
“We have a meeting scheduled Thursday with American Airlines with the possibilities of adding new routes to Antigua and Barbuda. We haven’t given up on that at all. We are still working very hard,” he said.
The tourism minister also spoke about a flight originating from Manchester in the north of England.
“We are going to engage them to see what we can do to incentivise as much as possible to bring them to Antigua. This would be great for us. In addition to that, we have LIAT now operating. It means it is going to be a great boom for us because we can offer ourselves as a hub,” he said.
The Covid-19 pandemic has brought many business operations across the world to a standstill, and travel and tourism has been the worst affected of the major sectors.