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By Elesha George

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The decision by Virgin Atlantic to cancel flights emanating from London’s Gatwick Airport, and to increase flights from Heathrow Airport, will present an opportunity for Antigua and Barbuda to service more high-end travellers once borders reopen, say tourism officials.

“They have shifted all their operations now to London Heathrow versus London Gatwick, and I think that’s a good move for Antigua and Barbuda …Heathrow has a much higher brand equity for the business class and the upper class or the club world passenger, who is the type of passenger that will be keen to be travelling and will be able to afford travel post-Covid,” said Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the Antigua and Barbuda Tourism Authority, Colin James.

James said although Virgin Atlantic has not given an exact date when it will resume flights to Antigua, the airline has confirmed that its aircraft will be reverting to the A330-300 series configuration that launched in early 2000 and boasts about 31 upper class seats.

And since most flights will be tagged to Antigua and other destinations, James believes, “This is going to be good for us in that it will allow us to connect all major European capitals same day so somebody could leave Czech Republic, Germany, Spain, Portugal, you name it, and get to London in time to make their connection to Antigua.”

British Airways (BA) is also expected to close its Gatwick operation and although service is unlikely to begin before July 2020, James said it was also a welcomed change because new flights will originate from Heathrow as well.

According to the CEO, “Twenty percent of their [BA] flights came out of Gatwick. Gatwick was where all the Caribbean flights originated, but Gatwick had a disadvantage in that people from European continents could not connect same day via London to Antigua. By the time they got into Heathrow and they would change airports and get over to Gatwick, they would have missed the connection.”

Meanwhile, airport and hotel workers as well as taxi drivers who will be at the heart of the tourism sector’s revival, are set to undergo “comprehensive” training on new health, safety and service protocols.

Once agreed upon by the OECS countries, these frontline workers will begin training in the upcoming weeks.

Among the protocols to be agreed upon include the ability for hotel guests to check in remotely to reduce person-to-person contact, the implementation of in-room dining, change of clothes policies and stringent sanitation regulations.

In addition, travellers must present Covid-19 negative tests 48 hours before boarding a flight bound to OECS countries and Embarkation and Disembarkation cards (ED-cards) are to be phased out and replaced with online submissions.

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