By Shermain Bique-Charles
The Caribbean Journal’s freshly crowned ‘Tourism Minister of the Year’ – Antigua and Barbuda’s Charles “Max” Fernandez – says the recognition came as a big surprise.
Fernandez received the accolade in the publication’s 2021 Caribbean Travel Awards – announced this week – for his efforts boosting the country’s economic mainstay amid unprecedented challenges.
“I wasn’t even thinking about that; my concentration has always been to do the best I can and I think that what I do is a joint effort with the support of Cabinet and the Ministry of Health,” he told Observer.
Earlier this week, the Caribbean Journal said it was basing the recognition on the fact that Antigua and Barbuda was one of the first destinations to reopen for tourism – a decision that was not taken lightly and did not come without risk.
It praised Fernandez’s “calming hand” as he helped steward the country toward what has been one of the “region’s exemplary tourism re-launches”, thanks in part to an exacting set of health and safety protocols for the hotel sector.
Fernandez has also helped to continue to position the country as a surging hotel development destination, the Journal said.
“I think it means a lot that we are recognised outside of the island, at a time when the Caribbean is fighting hard to come back. It shows how hard we are working to keep the industry back on the footing we once had it,” an elated Fernandez said.
He recalled that, prior to Covid-19, Antigua and Barbuda’s tourism industry had seen a record year.
Fernandez also looked back at some of the major challenges since the pandemic.
“We had our plan for the year and everything came tumbling down in a short time. That was heart-wrenching for all of us and we had to catch ourselves and huddle and come up with something new,” he added.
Fernandez said the award belongs to the government, his colleagues within the tourism sector and the Ministry of Health.
The Antigua and Barbuda Tourism Authority has also seen some recent industry successes including two international awards for its “Your Space in the Sun” digital marketing campaign, created in response to the Covid-19 pandemic.
The body received the platinum award – the highest-level possible – in the MARCOM Awards.
It also claimed the Gold Travel Weekly Magellan Award for the same campaign, which seeks to show Antigua and Barbuda has the perfect antidote of space and invites people to broaden their horizons and enjoy all the space they need.