Four cruise ships berth at Heritage Quay for start of homeporting season amid mixed reaction from local stakeholders

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On Saturday morning, four cruise ships berthed at Heritage Quay, with two of those ships homeporting.

Following the success of the exercise in January of this year, tourism officials and stakeholders, including taxi operators, vendors, and port authorities have been preparing for this day.

For this weekend, two ships were making homeporting calls to the island, including the Arvia marking the first of nine visits expected during the 2023/2024 Winter tourism season.

Additionally, the luxury super yacht, Emerald Sakara, made her maiden homeporting voyage at the Nevis Street Pier, with an expected 12 additional calls expected over the coming months.

The other ships to berth over the weekend were the Marella Discovery and Artania.

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It was the first time, according to the Antigua Cruise Port, that so many cruise ships had berthed at the same time in Antigua and Barbuda.

Meanwhile, hundreds of visitors also entered the country through the VC Bird International Airport, as taxi operators and airport security staff sought to ensure a smooth transition from the airport towards the city of St John’s.

The sounds of music, bustling tourists, and the engines of taxis and minibuses moving throughout made for a bustling atmosphere in St John’s.

Observer media roamed the streets throughout the day, speaking to vendors and operators about the experience.

A store manager at Shoul’s Liquor and Perfumery said that the morning was notably busy for the store and highlighted that there was “a better flow” in terms of the taxi operations, compared to months earlier.

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However, according to one taxi driver, their financial earnings were “not as glorious” as they would have hoped.

“We have been seeing more tourists, but the spending power is not there – that is the only problem,” said a vendor by the name of Celesty, adding that while some visitors were willing to buy items, they seemed to have had limited funds on hand.

Mama Shakie, a vendor with decades of experience, shared that there were a “lot of tourists but the spending was not there” and noted that there was a notable difference in spending capabilities between the various tourists, depending on their nationality.

“Americans—they will buy, but they want to take back practically nothing, and nah talk about the British, you have to give them one break, but we will be looking into next month to see if everything ah go be better,” she explained.

Some visitors seemed to have encountered difficulties accessing cash from ATMs, which could be a factor in the limited purchases made.

Speaking to Tourism Minister Charles Fernandez for his assessment of yesterday, he noted the significance of the day.

“Well, yesterday was the start of a very important aspect of our tourism product, vis-a-vis our cruise tourism; we had 800 passengers homeporting [on Saturday with 8,000 tourists on island] and you would recall last year for the complete season, we did 2,500 and this year, we expect 5,000 in and out.”

The Tourism Minister also noted that a review of the homeporting exercise will be undertaken to better prepare for the other Saturdays on schedule for homeporting next month—December 2, 16 and 30.

“We will go back to the drawing board from yesterday to see where there were gaps, or where we need improvement, and that will be done this week and over the next couple days to ensure we up our game further,” Minister Fernandez replied.

Additional homeporting dates for next year include January 13 and 27, February 10 and 24 and March 9.

Minister Fernandez acknowledged the ATM issues and will be stressing to the banks that they  resolve the issues that occurred over the weekend.

“In terms of the lines at the immigration booths, we need to look at that, speak to the Immigration Minister and Chief Immigration Officer this week to see what we can do, especially on Saturdays which is our major day of arrivals,” he added.

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