By Orville Williams
Political Leader of the United Progressive Party (UPP), Harold Lovell, has made another bold suggestion in the debate about Antigua and Barbuda’s economic growth, saying diversifying the tourism sector would play a significant role.
Speaking on the matter this week, he acknowledged that – despite the widespread calls for economic diversification – the tourism sector will continue in its role as the country’s main income generator. He says, however, if the tourism sector itself is diversified, it could bring about the growth the country is capable of.
“We believe that tourism – yes, it has shown that there are weakness and we recognise that – will continue for a very long time to be the mainstay of our economy. We need, however, to recognise that there are new forms of tourism and new opportunities that will be created.
“We look, for example, at the way in which people will come [to Antigua and Barbuda] to work and to do their business virtually,” he said.
The type of diversified tourism Lovell speaks of has become very popular in many Caribbean countries, such as long-term ‘digital nomad’ visa programmes aimed at foreigners who can work remotely.
With the world becoming so digitally advanced, many forward-thinking professionals are ditching their home countries temporarily to work from more picturesque surroundings.
This scenario though, requires the host country to be technologically forward in order to facilitate the visitors’ requirements for internet connectivity and the like.
Lovell says that is one of the first improvements that should be made in Antigua and Barbuda before the tourism sector can be diversified in this regard.
“In doing so, it means that we have to make sure that the right technological infrastructure is in place. That means we have to fix the whole question of internet speed, cost of internet access and these [sorts of] things,” he explained.
It should be noted that the government did put a digital nomad arrangement in place during the early stages of the pandemic as a revenue-generating initiative. The level of success it has achieved in recent months has not been made clear but tourism officials said last November that interest had been high with a number of American, Canadian and British applicants here, and the number of those showing an interest continuing to rise.
The UPP political leader also suggests that new strategies should be implemented to arrest the ‘imbalanced’ flow of foreign exchange generated within the country; additionally, how a modified tourism sector can go on to diversify other sectors of the economy.
“We have to make sure that we plug some of those leakages, to make sure that the tourist dollar or a greater percentage of the tourist dollar stays in Antigua,” he said.
“Once we plug the leakages, we have to promote linkages. With linkages, we’re talking about the linkage between tourism and agriculture, [between] tourism and technology.”
Lovell added, “This is all part of the campaign and our vision to diversify the economy, but including tourism in that diversification. Further, we look at creating new centres for economic prosperity and economic development.”