By Latrishka Thomas
Iconic R&B singer Ashanti’s glamorous birthday celebrated in Antigua last week has apparently sparked the interest of a few other celebs now wishing to vacation in the land of sun, sea and sand.
The Grammy award-winner turned 40 on October 13 and commemorated the occasion with other big names including rapper Flo Rida at the Hodges Bay Resort for around four days.
Owner of the resort Jeff Wellemeyer told Observer that not only did the famous singer’s visit bring positive international attention to Antigua but three other celebrities are already making plans to vacation in the twin island island.
“We’ve had bookings because of it. We have persons who have said that we saw where Ashanti was staying, we wanna stay at Hodges Bay, including three of the celebrities who were at the event and have rescheduled for their family vacations and will be coming back,” he revealed.
Wellemeyer shared that, except for Ashanti, it was the first time many of those who celebrated with her had been to Antigua.
He disclosed that the ‘Baby’ singer had stayed at his resort three times prior.
This time, her visit was for a major milestone in her life – and she recorded much of it, with Antigua set to be featured in an upcoming music video.
“There is a whole other feature video they are doing that’s going to be on MTV and at Ashanti’s concerts and it’s going to be absolutely great for us as a country.
“They had a crew here and they recorded a … music video as well as a video all about her birthday,” Wellemeyer disclosed.
But Ashanti’s visit also incited complaints from residents when fireworks were set off at around 1am.
The businessman offered a subsequent apology to local residents saying, “I truly apologise for the late night fireworks, I can assure you it was a one-time occurrence.”
Meanwhile, Wellemeyer lamented that business at the resort has otherwise been “terrible” due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“The main reason there isn’t much travel in the Caribbean is because of all the confusion over testing, who has to be tested ahead of time and when they have to be tested and why can’t they be tested on arrival,” he remarked.
He further suggested that better communication about testing requirements and offering testing upon arrival would help to boost tourist visits.
“It’s a lot safer than testing a week in advance,” he purported.
“We’ve got to get our act together on communicating very strongly what testing is going to be required and how … We need to have the ability for people to come to Antigua and be tested upon arrival,” he continued.
In fact, he shared that the resort lost a major booking because of difficulties associated with getting PCR tests before flying.
“We had big bookings, huge month-long bookings for one of the villas, and the guy cancelled the night before because he couldn’t get his 14-year-old daughter tested…and I’m talking about US$80,000 – and that’s payroll for the whole month,” he said.
According to Wellemeyer, October has been one of the worst months for his hotel and although the rest of the year looks more promising “it’s nothing compared to how it should be”.
Residents have also been complaining that tourists visiting Antigua and Barbuda are being given better treatment than locals.
Commenting on that, the hotelier said that the risk of community spread is lower within hotels.
“Locals partying at a bar allows it to spread throughout the island, guests inside of a hotel bar … the exposure to the community is very low,” he said.
He concretised his point by disclosing that 90 percent of the guests at the Hodges Bay Resort never leave the property.
“The only reason we could accommodate a private birthday party is because our occupancy is so low. We could not have done that safely if we were full and had a lot of other guests,” Wellemeyer added.