No Plan B

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The day after the British referendum on the exit from the European Union (EU), also known as ‘Brexit’, we wrote a piece entitled, “Yes, the ‘Brexit’ affects us.” In that piece, we acknowledged that many Antiguans and Barbudans were not interested in the Brexit and held the belief that whatever the Brits do has little influence on our lives. We countered that notion by pointing out that the pound would be affected and the resulting devaluation would create a domino effect throughout the world.
We noted, ”In the immediate aftermath, the British pound plummeted. In just six hours it lost over 10 per cent of its value, delivering one of the largest single-day losses and triggering large scale sell-offs on Wall Street and around the world. All the major stock indexes were down on the news and the future is uncertain,” adding: “It would be impossible to go into the economic and political impact for Britain, the EU and the world but we can look at possible impacts for our bit of paradise.”
To us, the fallout was obvious, but we were chastised for ringing alarm bells when there was no fire.  Despite those criticisms, our analysis remains the same: “Our currency, the Eastern Caribbean (EC) Dollar, is linked to the United States dollar. That means that any shift in foreign exchange between the US dollar to UK pound affects us.”
It is simplistic, yes, but that is because it is not complicated. It is now almost a year since the Brexit referendum and the pound has dropped by nearly 15 per cent. Pre-Brexit, the exchange rate for the Great Britain Pound (GBP) versus the United States Dollar (USD) hovered near $1.50. Today, it somewhere in the somewhere between $1.20 and $1.30.
Back when we made our observations, we were assured that Brexit posed more of an opportunity than a challenge. We were assured that the government was shoring up the UK market and was also vigorously pursuing other markets. We were pointed to the 2016 forecasts as proof that the necessary work was being done and in September, Minister of Tourism Honourable Asot Michael said, “2017 is set to be a landmark year for Antigua and Barbuda and for our tourism industry.” And although we countered and said that we could not rely on 2016 forecasts or results to determine the impact of Brexit, as vacations are planned and booked will in advance, we were shooed into a corner for pointing out the obvious.
Regardless of our prediction that the British “will adopt a ‘wait and see’ approach to any discretionary spending, which naturally include vacations”, we were genuinely hopeful that our simplistic analysis and observations would not pan out. Unfortunately, our predictions turned out to be correct and the government is now blaming the decline on tourist arrivals from the United Kingdom on the devaluation of the British currency.
Before you even begin think that this is an I-told-you-so-smirk session, relieve yourself of those thoughts, because we all suffer when tourism suffers. We may have been proven right but we would have been happier if we had been proven wrong and had to look down the wagging fingers of politicians as they said, “Bad Observer!”
Now that the reality has set in and everyone is on the same page, we need a plan. We can all hope that things will rebound, like Karen-Mae Hill, our High Commission to London, but hope will not produce results. Our tourism fate should not be left in the hands of hope, rather we should forge our own future with an imaginative plan and hard work.
Hill said that all indications point to the fact that the twin-island remains an attractive destination to UK visitors but she also rightfully pointed out that when there is “uncertainty and concern about where the markets are heading, people tend to be a little more watchful of how they spend their resources”. It is for this exact reason that we said last year that we hoped “the minister and his hard working staff will be able to supplement any drop in UK visitors with those from other countries or find a way to convince them that their pounds find best value in Antigua”.
We noted that it was not going to be an easy task because it is more than a numbers game and a UK visitor cannot simply be replaced by one from another country. Chief Executive Officer of the Antigua & Barbuda Tourism Authority (ABTA) Colin James highlighted this fact when he said, “The UK visitors tend to stay longer, 10 to 14 days, as opposed tthe North American visitor, so there is more impact on spending in our country.”  Then there are other considerations, such as airlift and language barriers, just to name a couple.
So the real question in all of this is: What are we going to do? We have heard all the reasons why, now we want to hear all the actions that are being taken or will be taken to mitigate the fallout of Brexit, visa restrictions, and all the other challenges that are affecting our tourism dollars. Because, let’s face it, we have put ourselves in a position where we do not have a ‘Plan B’ to tourism.
We will listen attentively and hope that the sound of chirping crickets will not be the only thing echoing in the wind.

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