The controversial Café Britt will stay at the VC Bird International Airport but the size of the store, and possibly the variety of items sold there, will be downsized.
That announcement came yesterday from Tourism Minister John Maginley who said on OBSERVER Radio’s Voice of the People programme that the authorities are in the process of finalising revised drawings.
He said the airline association and the Eastern Caribbean Civil Aviation Authority (ECCAA), which did not have an input in the original plan, have been consulted this time around.
There has been controversy surrounding Café Britt since last December when it opened its 220 square metre Xpolora Antigua store which airline passengers must pass through to get to the departure gates.
“Café Britt has agreed to reduce the size of their store. Once the drawings have all been complete … we’re going to reduce the size of the store. It might be as much as 15 feet by 40 feet in the reduction and then we’re going to go into clearing up what they can sell,” he said.
“We have some challenges in there which we have to continue to work out,” Maginley added, although not indicating exactly what those difficulties were.
Other departure lounge shop operators have complained that the size of the Café Britt store, its location and the wide variety of merchandise – which includes jewellery, chocolates, T-shirts, souvenirs, music and locally made arts and crafts – present unfair competition. They have written to the tourism minister on the matter and have also formed the VC Bird Departure Lounge Small Shop Operators Association to fight what they say is unfair and overwhelming competition.
The airline association has also expressed concern that the congestion creates difficulties for the boarding and security process.
The tourism minister, however, insisted that while storeowners are upset about the space allocated to the Costa Rican enterprise, the company has been operating in line with the agreement it reached with the Airport Authority under the leadership of the then Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Ken Hurst.
The US $1.3 million deal with Café Britt saw a 500 square metre expansion of the terminal, with the company getting just under half of that for its operation.
“They have a legal document giving them the right. Now, you can’t get around that … Mr Hurst, when he signed with them, approved a list of items for them to sell and they have a legally binding document,” Maginley said.
“But they’ve agreed to work with us and have even agreed to help us expand the departure lounge once we move forward.”
Meantime, the tourism minister said the search for Hurst’s replacement continues.
He said an unnamed local company has been put in charge of that process.
“We were hoping that by the end of March we would have that (but) they’re still doing some review of the functions because we got some advice that we needed somebody who is not only competent in management on the land side but also some experience on the air side, so they’re doing the job description and those things to put it together,” Maginley added.
Chairman of the Board of the Antigua & Barbuda Airport Authority (ABAA) Gatesworth James is acting in the position for now.
Responding to questions from host Winston Derrick about a possible conflict of interest, Maginley said, “Nobody has said to us that there is a conflict there … he’s just acting CEO during the period.”