Tourism has “stagnated” – Sir Lester

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Emeritus Leader, Sir Lester Bird, the man credited with setting Antigua and Barbuda on the tourism path, has decried the state of the sector which he said has stagnated. Sir Lester was addressing the budget debate in the Lower House on Thursday, in what he said was his last budget contribution. He had signaled in December his intention to retire from parliamentary politics at the end of the current term. Elections, while constitutionally due next year, are widely expected to be called this year.
Opening debate on the $1.22 billion budget, the former prime minister dismissed the calls for the economy to move away from tourism. According to Sir Lester, tourism is an invaluable contributor to the economy with no other sector matching it. “The economic survival and prosperity of Antigua and Barbuda is inextricably intertwined with the use of the tourism sector as the dominant engine of growth. Attaining the heights of an economic powerhouse cannot be achieved if the tourism sector is not a powerhouse in and of itself,” Sir Lester declared.
But according to Sir Lester, the local tourism sector has come far from its heyday and has now stagnated “In 1998, according to the Eastern Caribbean Central Bank, Antigua and Barbuda tourism sector was the largest of all sectors in the OECS. That is to say, it generated the highest output of value added than all other sectors in the sub-region. “In the year 2000 there were 230,000 long stay visitors in Antigua.
In 2016 Antigua and Barbuda attracted 265,157 long stay tourists. This represent a mere 36,000 [sic] more visitors over a 16- year period.” According to Sir Lester, at no time in its history has the country attracted more than 270,000 long stay visitors.
He added that the country has failed to develop all the assets of its tourism product, particularly the accommodation sector. Sir Lester said that the government should invest in the accommodation sector and own at least 1000 rooms, though not necessarily manage them.
(More in today’s Daily Observer)

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