Tradesmen share optimism ahead of return of cruise sector

Shuttered shops have been a familiar sight in Heritage Quay since the Covid pandemic put the cruise industry on ice last year. With the first passenger-laden ship due back in St John’s next month, Observer caught up with local traders to find out how they are preparing for the vast vessels’ return – and how optimistic they are that it will equate to the economic injection they badly need. (Photo by Gemma Handy/Observer)
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With just little over a month to go until the first cruise ship laden with passengers, docks in Antigua, several businessmen in Heritage and Redcliffe Quay spoke to Observer media giving an update on how preparations are going.

“We have all our Covid protocols in place. We have sanitizers at the door and mask requirement – you can’t enter without a mask here. All of our staff have-on a mask. We are prepared for sales, and hopefully we can get some business. We have to see what the guests are like coming off the ship; if they feel  safe enough to do shopping like they did before, or if they are a little bit more hesitant, so it might be a slow start, but we are hoping that it will pick up eventually,” said Kamlesh Vaswani of Sterlings.

While Paul Papadopoulos of Athletes indicated “their readiness” as “they have begun training with staff about the various Covid protocols, and have already begun posting several stickers about his business’ guidelines.”

The luxurious Seabourn Odyssey which has 229 suites, a spa and mini golf course on board – arrives on July 20.

The date was revealed by General Manager of Antigua Cruise Port, Dona Regis-Prosper, who added that port staff were working closely with tourism officials and others, from taxi drivers to private companies, “to ensure that we are ready.”

For the city traders like GuavaDeArtist who rely heavily on cruise passengers to make a living, “the date could not come soon enough.”

Akshay Joukani of Diamonds International noted that “for the past one year, it has been basically hotels, but as soon as the cruise ships come in, we are hoping that we get more of the cruise ship clientele coming into the stores. It has been quite devastating since the Covid pandemic hit, but we are remaining positive.”     

“The pandemic has been rough,” Daniel Charles of Big Banana added. “It has been slow, but we have been picking back up recently, so we are hopeful that it is going to be picking up more and get back where it used to be. I am confident that we will get back to those large numbers.”

 For some, the fear of another surge lingers in their minds.

“We were worried, [and hopeful] that things won’t get out of hand again,” added Rebecca Mellanson of Champions Footwear. “Even though you have the vaccine, it’s possible that you can still get this Covid.”            

Traders have also expressed concern that many passengers will be reluctant to disembark – and those that do, will be restricted to tight bubbles and organised tours with which many local companies simply cannot compete. 

Seabourn Odyssey won’t be full, but it signals the long-awaited return of the sector which has been on ice for 15 months due to the Covid pandemic.

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