By Carlena Knight
Despite the recent surge in Covid cases, Antigua and Barbuda is expected to see 85 cruise liners visiting its shores in the coming months.
This was confirmed by Tourism Minister Max Fernandez yesterday on state media.
“I can tell you that we have scheduled between now and the end of December 85 calls which is very important for our industry but again, once we are satisfied and the Ministry of Health says ‘yes, the greenlight is there’ and the protocols are followed, I think, we will be relatively safe.
“I think the cruise lines are going to be very serious about coming back; there is too much invested,” Fernandez said.
In July, Antigua and Barbuda welcomed back its first cruise ship in 15 months, Windstar Cruises’ Star Breeze, signalling the return of the sector.
CEO of the Antigua and Barbuda Tourism Authority Colin James also revealed that the UK market continues to boom for airline travel with British Airways putting on three additional flights a week from next month.
October will also see the long-awaited return of flights from Canada, according to James.
“Things are really, really heating up. As you know, we have done so much in terms of advertisement campaigns and other things and just really highlighting these two beautiful islands and we are beginning to see the traction coming out of that and we are particularly pleased,” James said.
Fernandez also spoke on Covid’s impact on the country’s economy.
“We are told that we lost about 20 percent of our GDP. Our tourism sector practically was wiped out for all of about six months or so, I would say.
“We are only now starting to see some sort of recovery … the cruise industry has been down for over a year, so we lost on that.
“Our yachting sector was shut down; we lost on that. The threat of Covid saw us being put on the level four list in the US and we have already started to see a few cancellations there,” he added.
Fernandez did mention that there are several other factors that have been impacting the growth of the industry, including climate change and postponement of investments.
He however remains hopeful as the tourism sector slowly recovers, as witnessed by the record-breaking number of tourists visiting the country in the past few months. Fernandez says this is linked to how well the vaccination campaign is doing.
“Now more than ever the experts are saying that recovery is directly linked to vaccination and that’s just not in Antigua and Barbuda, that’s worldwide. Recovery, in general, is linked directly to vaccination. So, that is very, very important for all of us to realise,” Fernandez said.
“In terms of employment, 80 percent of the workforce has been rehired directly in the hotel sector since the shutdown, and that is like thousands of families are benefitting directly.
“This does not include tour operators, the people in the cruising sector, yachting, taxi drivers and vendors, Airbnb renters or suppliers. So, you realise right away the extent of the hurt that this pandemic has caused and the importance of us getting the recovery back on track,” he said.
Because of this, he is encouraging residents, especially those in the tourism industry who have not yet been vaccinated, to do so.
Plans he says are also being put in place to ensure that the industry becomes more resilient by focusing on improving medical and sports tourism assets.
He says the country has a wide array of features that can help to boost the industry, which will be looked at to gauge how effectively and efficiently they can be exploited.
The minister’s comments came as the globe celebrated World Tourism Day yesterday.