By Orville Williams
Considering the devastating impact of the Covid-19 pandemic over the past two years, players in the cruise tourism sector are being encouraged to exercise a bit more patience with the ongoing resurgence.
All cruise activity was forced to a halt back in 2020, as most countries around the world closed their borders due to the rapid spread of the virus, and while the situation has improved drastically in recent months, many local businesses which have traditionally relied on visiting cruise passengers say takings remain low.
Addressing the issue on Observer AM yesterday, General Manager of the Antigua Cruise Port, Dona Regis-Prosper, insisted that the opportunities will come, but everyone involved will need to bide their time.
“My yardstick is comparing [the activity in the current cruise season] with the years before – 2020 and 2021 – which was zero.
“This [period] is one of recovery. We spoke previously about a modest restart, we spoke about being patient with the process, we spoke about the uncertainty and the fact that the only certainty we have is that this recovery will be uncertain.
“That has proven to be true and I continue to encourage our stakeholders to be positive, to give your best service as possible to our guests, [as] this is a very competitive industry,” she said.
And despite the sustained impact of the pandemic on the global travel and hospitality sector, Regis-Prosper spoke with optimism about the continued rebound of cruise tourism here in Antigua and Barbuda.
She also projected a modest end to the season, as far as arrival figures are concerned.
“We’re still in an active pandemic, so this season has been very good. Our year-to-date figures are just over 100,000 – 108,000 to be precise – [and] we’ve had days where we’ve had multiple cruise ships in port, as much as seven.
“So, we’re hitting our target in terms of cruise ship calls, [but] the number of arrivals continues to be very uncertain,” she explained.
“January was a very difficult month, because that is when we saw the impact of the Omicron variant. So, in terms of our capacity, that has taken a bit of a hit, but overall, we’re certainly above and beyond in terms of where Antigua is regionally, and also in terms of the number of passengers.
“By the end of the cruise season, we should be able to be very close to 200,000. And again, compared to the year prior, we know where we all were.”
Regis-Prosper also acknowledged the impact of the public Covid-19 vaccination programme on the rebound efforts, saying Antigua and Barbuda’s relatively high vaccination rate allowed them to “gain additional vessels during the month of Omicron” and work with cruise lines that other competing cruise destinations may not have been able to.
“I want to thank our stakeholders – from our taxi drivers, to our vendors, to our retailers. Everybody has really come together to showcase Antigua in a very positive light, so the feedback for Antigua has been very positive,” she added.