By Theresa Goodwin
Several of the country’s major hotel properties, which had been forced to close due to the Covid-19 pandemic, will be resuming operations shortly amid the phased reopening of the tourism industry.
Executive Director of the Antigua and Barbuda Hotels and Tourism Association, Patrice Christian Simon, disclosed the growing list during a virtual news conference yesterday hours before the country welcomed its first guests who arrived on an American Airlines flight from Miami.
“The Admiral’s Inn, Antigua Village, Buccaneer Beach Club , Hawksbill Resort, Hermitage Hotel, Hodges Bay, Tamarind Hills, Hammock Cove, and Sandals Grande Antigua resort will be opened in the month of June,” Simon said.
Additionally, The Villas at Sunset Lane, the Great House, Coco Bay Resort, Cocos Hotel, and Keyonna Beach Resort are set to reopen in early July having received official certification from health and tourism chiefs.
More than 300 employees have received special training ahead of a new influx of guests.
The government has implemented a series of travel safety protocols which impact every element of the visitor experience, from arrivals at ports of entry, through ground transfers, resort accommodations, restaurants, tours and attractions.
These were put to the test last night when the country welcomed approximately 189 passengers, most of whom were Antiguan and Barbudan nationals, plus a smattering of holidaymakers.
Tourism Minister Charles “Max” Fernandez, who was also present at the virtual conference, told those in attendance that, “Despite the severe economic strain on our economy resulting from the closure of our tourism industry, we waited until we were in a position to reassure both our citizens and our prospective guests that every precaution is being taken to ensure a safe and enjoyable vacation experience. The travel safety protocols have been developed under the guidance of the Ministry of Health, with the full support and cooperation of our stakeholders.”
Meanwhile, Tourism Authority CEO Colin James said the Covid-19 pandemic significantly hampered what was on track to be another record-breaking year for Antigua and Barbuda in terms of visitor arrivals.
He explained that with air arrivals having topped 309,000, and a growth rate of 2.4 percent in January 2019, with 30,850 arrivals and a whopping 13.3 percent increase in February 2019, the twin island state had been well on its way to break those records in 2020.
Things took a different turn in March when borders in Antigua and Barbuda and around the world were forced to close due to the outbreak of the deadly virus.
Arrivals to the twin island state fell to 15,831, which according to James represented a 49 percent decline compared to usual March figures.
“At the end of the first quarter our arrivals declined by 12 percent overall. We were also experiencing growth in new properties and improved experience on island but everything came to a halt when Covid-19 came about,” James said.
He further stated that while there have been other external circumstances that have impacted travel, the effect of Covid-19 on the tourism sector has been unprecedented.
The tourism authority boss said his department has been forced to adapt to new ways of communication and devising new strategies to attract visitors as well as restoring their confidence in travel industry.
They have also hosted a “constant stream of webinars with tourism partners and other key players” to keep them actively engaged.
James said that as the country reopens its borders, it “will proudly claim its number one position” in the coming months with several carriers already indicating an interest in resuming business with the country.