By Orville Williams
The uncertainty surrounding the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic continues to affect tourist arrivals to Antigua and Barbuda, but Tourism Minister Charles Fernandez is nonetheless predicting a good summer for the local sector.
“[This year], there’s still a bit of uncertainty…because every time we’ve felt that we were really getting past the worst of the pandemic, something new came along.
“For example, July and August 2021 were the two best [of those] months since we’ve been keeping records, and we felt that we were back on track for a big season. Then, we had a slight drop in September – I think about 11 percent – prior to 2019, which was our best year.
“Again, I think Omicron created major concern for our visitors [and] that affected us following the trajectory that we thought we were on,” Fernandez told Observer this week.
The Caribbean Tourism Organization (CTO) has declared that it remains positive about the continued rebound of the tourism industry, even in the face of the aforementioned uncertainty.
It said that 2021 proved “that there is light at the end of what has been a long tunnel,” adding that “the exceptional results recorded in the summer to year-end period of 2021 show that a scaled or gradual rebound is likely and very possible by the end of 2022”.
Those sentiments are shared by Fernandez, who anticipates that Antigua and Barbuda’s tourism sector will experience a resurgence over the same period.
“We are still looking forward to a good season [and] I think the best will be in the fourth quarter of 2022. I think, at that point in time – all going well and we have Covid-19 behind us – it would really be great [for the sector].
“We’re also anticipating, because of pent-up demand, that we may have a better-than-usual summer,” he said.
The Tourism Minister also spoke on the outlook for cruise tourism in particular, considering it was one of the last ‘sub-sectors’ of global tourism to resume, following the initial impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.
“In terms of yachting, [the public] would know that we’re planning our Sailing Week – I think the last update I had was that there are about 100 yachts already registered, which is really good.
“And in terms of cruise tourism… [the record seven vessels in Antigua on Tuesday] shows that cruise tourism is coming back in a big way.
“We are hoping that the numbers on the ships, once Covid-19 and Omicron [specifically] are under control, could bump back up. As it is now, they’re sailing at around 50 percent capacity because of the concerns with the protocols that are in place.
“So, all in all, we’re looking forward to possibly a good summer, [considering] summer was not usually good, and we’re hoping that this summer will be better than usual in terms of cruise passengers,” Fernandez added.