By Carlena Knight
Discussions are underway with major cruise lines to begin homeporting from Antigua and Barbuda.
That means the twin island nation could see some of the world’s largest passenger ships operating from here as their main base.
Tourism Minister Charles ‘Max’ Fernandez made the revelation during an exclusive interview with Observer.
Already, plans are in the works for one of the Carnival UK brands, P&O Cruises’ newest vessel Arvia, to begin homeporting in Antigua and Barbuda in 2023 and, according to Fernandez, there is a strong possibility that more cruise lines will follow suit.
“There are a couple other lines that are also speaking to GPH, Global Ports Holding, about homeporting. I can’t confirm anything at this time because they are still in discussions, but we are confident that it is going to be more than one looking to homeport,” Fernandez said.
“In addition to that, some of them are even looking to book now because they make bookings in advance and we are seeing an increase even for 2024.
“So, 2023 is going to be the start and what will really dictate how successful we are in attracting more lines is how those first ones are treated and their feedback.
“So, we are going to put whatever we can [in place] to ensure that everything is in place to make Antigua and Barbuda the most competitive for us in terms of homeporting,” he added.
It’s not the first time Antigua and Barbuda has been tipped to become a homeport. Plans had been in place for luxury cruise ship, Crystal Symphony of Crystal Cruises, to begin its voyages here from last August.
However, that never materialised after the cruise line ran into financial difficulties. It ceased operations in February this year.
Despite that loss, Fernandez indicated that homeporting will offer a number of benefits to the country.
“It is significant in that you will have people coming in by air and people going back out by air. You will have the whole movement of taxi drivers taking people from the port and back to the airport, so that is the first thing.
“Then, you have all of the taxes in terms of the airline travel as well, so there are benefits to it.
“In addition to that, once the ship homeports, we are told by the end of next year, the port will be able to offer power to the ships. We are also presently selling water to the ships.
“They have also indicated they may need to purchase provisions for the ships, so these are all opportunities for us with homeporting,” Fernandez explained.
The cruise industry adds millions to local coffers each year in taxes and expenditure but globally the sector became a poster child for the pandemic when countries across the world closed their borders in 2020 in a bid to contain the coronavirus.
Since then, the cruise sector has been on the rebound with significant returns to the island already.