By Orville Williams
Hotels in Antigua and Barbuda that could be affected by the current economic situation in the UK have been tasked with addressing any potential fallout, ahead of the upcoming winter tourism season.
While the local tourism sector is anticipating the ‘most normal’ season since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, the sliding value of the British pound could affect the plans hoteliers, vendors, taxi and tour operators are looking to put into action, starting in a few months.
The pound sterling hit a record low against the US dollar this week, following an announcement of several fiscal measures including tax reductions, investment incentives and financial support – aimed at avoiding a projected economic slowdown.
Soon after that announcement, international currency traders started selling the pound in droves in favour of the stronger dollar, less than a month after new Prime Minister Liz Truss and the rest of her government took office.
Now, there are concerns that people in the UK – which is Antigua and Barbuda’s second-largest tourism source market – could be hesitant to spend money on vacations, concerns that do not bode well for the twin island nation.
Chief of Staff in the Office of the Prime Minister, Lionel Hurst, acknowledged those concerns during yesterday’s post-Cabinet media briefing, and explained that the onus is on the hotels to ensure they continue to attract visitors during this turbulent time.
“We don’t know how long this decline of the pound’s value will last, no one knows it, but what we do know is that the second largest number of people who visit Antigua as tourists come from the UK.
“Therefore, we anticipate that there might be some impact on the number of visitors who will come if the cost of travel from the UK explodes.
“There are about three hotels in Antigua that are the major recipients of British tourists and our expectation is that they are the ones who will make the necessary adjustments in order to ensure that their numbers will continue to increase or, certainly, not fall off significantly,” Hurst explained.
Britain has been having a tough past couple of months, from well-publicised labour shortages, logistics challenges and political instability, to the death of Queen Elizabeth II, soaring energy costs and now, a plummeting currency.
If residents there were not already apprehensive about splurging on recreational travel, this could very well be the proverbial cherry on top of a cakeful of issues, according to experts.
Based on word from the Chief of Staff, there has been no indication from the hotels to this point of any fallout where bookings and the like are concerned. This, he suggested, could give them time to adequately prepare any mitigation measures.
“[The British visitors] would have to pay far many more pounds to stay in a hotel in Antigua and Barbuda, whose prices are quoted in US dollars or the equivalent of US dollars to the pound, when the pound was at a much higher rate.
“The discussion with those hotels is that, at the moment, they have not yet reacted in a way to the decline in the British pound. So, it is really the hotels – in collaboration with the government – that will do their very best to ensure that their customer base isn’t significantly eroded as a consequence of having the pound itself drop in value,” he said.
Just yesterday, the British Prime Minister defended the controversial recent tax cuts, vowing to press on amid widespread criticism.
Her government received some support from Hurst, who voiced optimism that those leading the charge will successfully address the challenges Britain faces, and will prevent any unwanted fallout on Antigua and Barbuda.
“This is a problem for the UK, [but] they have some very bright people in the United Kingdom [and] we’re hopeful that they will solve this problem, and that the number of reservations that are now coming in from the UK will not be significantly impacted by this dreadful situation that has occurred,” he said.
Based on this week’s developments, Britons vacationing in the US are already said to be feeling the effects of a weaker pound sterling, while the same is expected for those travelling to countries like Barbados that also anchor their currencies to the US dollar.