By Elesha George
The 2021 tourism season is “too volatile” and “very unpredictable” to forecast, even while three quarters of Antigua’s hotel occupancy is set to be made available by year’s end.
Patrice Simon, executive director of the Antigua Hotels & Tourism Association (AHTA), made the remark while addressing CHTA’s Caribbean Tourism Fireworks – Antigua and Barbuda Press Conference yesterday. She said that movement within the travel industry is too erratic to project beyond April 2021.
The prospects of the tourism industry, though imperative to Antigua and Barbuda’s economy, remain uncertain, particularly as the twin island state enters its first winter season since the outbreak of Covid-19 was confirmed on island.
“Looking ahead to 2021, we understand that it is very unpredictable at this time. It continues to just be too volatile for us to project with any measure of certainty … We definitely have to go through this on a month by month analysis,” Simon said.
The good news is that travellers are currently booking flights to Antigua with occupancy of about 50 percent recorded in the first quarter of the winter season.
Canadians, for example, are reportedly eagerly awaiting the resumption of flights to Antigua and Barbuda and have been spending their downtime enjoying the destination through virtual vacation experiences.
Earlier this month, Vision Travel specialist Tracy Turberfield took Canadians on a virtual tour of Antigua, called ‘Live-Virtual Vacation Experiences’, from the comfort of their living rooms.
The AHTA said October is typically the time Canadian visitors – often dubbed ‘snowbirds’ – plan their escape from the harsh Canadian winters.
They can now fly direct from Toronto starting November 1 on regularly scheduled Air Canada flights.
Virgin Atlantic is also expected to resume flights from London on October 28.
Simon said 44 percent (1,400 rooms) of the 4,300 rooms among the country’s 14 major hotels are currently open, with another 1,100 rooms projected to open by the end of December.
She noted too that the AHTA is awaiting word from the remaining 22 percent regarding a reopening date.
“We know the resurgence of our industry will take time,” she noted, as she spoke of the more than 300 tourism workers who will be trained by the end of October, ready to take on the new norm that will make Antigua and Barbuda “sun, sea and safe”.
Meanwhile, Simon said she has noticed that booking patterns are “last minute”, with persons booking flights sometimes within 48 hours.
CEO of the Antigua and Barbuda Tourism Authority, Colin James, said the destination is focusing on hosting events that can held safely, like yachting
James believes that Antigua and Barbuda has a competitive advantage particularly because the destination is open to accept tourists and has had a head start having been the first OECS country to open on June 1.
“Being able to have that connectivity to run back to your host country conveniently and to have a wide range of accommodations for you does give us that competitive edge and positions us for that new niche,” he said.
In inviting travellers to Antigua and Barbuda, the CEO explained that, “Once your business establishment is certified you’re almost in a cocoon or a bubble and so you can leave your hotel and you can go on these certified tours and excursions.
“You can take your catamaran tours, you can go zip lining, you can swim with the stingrays because all those tours have been certified and so you can still enjoy the entire destination and have a great vacation here.”