By Meg Griffith, Travel Week
ST. JOHN’S, ANTIGUA — After a two-year hiatus, Showcase Antigua Barbuda was back in fine form earlier this month, with tour operators, airlines, policy makers, trade and media all getting down to business in and around St. John’s for networking, B2B discussions, and, of course, sightseeing.
Noting that Antigua and Barbuda reopened to travellers in June 2020, Tourism Minister Charles ‘Max’ Fernandez spoke directly to Travelweek about the excitement and encouragement the destination is seeing from this year’s Showcase.
“It is wonderful and really pleasing to see the response we’re getting. We feel really good leading the charge and we’re punching really hard to get a share of the market because so many of our people depend on tourism for their livelihood,” Minister Fernandez added.
Showcase Antigua Barbuda opened with the future-focused Destination Round Table Meeting, where Colin James, CEO of the Antigua and Barbuda Tourism Authority (ABTA), and Minister Fernandez highlighted Vision 2032, a people-centered vision for tourism to Antigua & Barbuda that focuses on world-leading service, plus new ABTA campaigns.
The opening gala, hosted at Sandals Grande Antigua Resort and Spa, included a live performance from Drastic, the two-time Grammy-nominated songwriter for his song ‘Sweet Antigua’.
Day two of the B2B event included business meetings hosted at the Royalton Antigua. All throughout the venue were smiling faces and various booths showcasing hotels, tour operators and DMCs eager and willing to discuss future opportunities in Antigua and Barbuda.
From newer companies that started during the pandemic – like Charmed Tours – to established brands such as Sandals Grande Antigua, every booth gave updates and focused on partnerships to build tourism back up.
ABTA’s James told Travelweek: “The fact that we have been able to restart in such a strong way has not gone unnoticed. Our airline partners are here, tour operators, travel agent groups, and the opportunity for them to reconnect has been awesome. So great for the destination, for the trade, and we hope to get the word out that Antigua and Barbuda is back with a bang. We have weathered the pandemic exceptionally well.”
FLIGHTS WITH WESTJET & SUNWING, AND SOON AIR CANADA TOO
Canadian travellers are coming back to Antigua, with full flights arriving on the island the latest signal that tourism from this market will soon return to pre-pandemic levels.
In an interview with James and Minister Fernandez, the two told Travelweek how the numbers from Canada are looking.
According to James, Canada was traditionally the destination’s third largest market, and at the height of the growth Canada was credited with some 40,000 arrivals here per year.
Currently, with only Sunwing and WestJet running weekly flights to Antigua and Barbuda, Canadian numbers are tracking about 40% down from 2019. However the flights currently coming in each week are full, “so it is clear to see the demand is there,” reports James.
With Air Canada set to come back in November, James is confident that Canada’s rebound will be strong. Both the UK and U.S. have already surpassed their April 2019 numbers.
“We know that Antigua and Barbuda has always been front and centre with the Canadian travel trade, tour operators and distributors, and we foresee that same growth that we see with other major markets happening with Canada as soon as we have full lift coming to our destination,” said James.
THE MESSAGE FOR CANADIAN TRAVEL AGENTS
There are a few things Minister Fernandez wants agents to know about Antigua. “Antigua is well known for its hospitality, we are the most hospitable people in the region. Our crime is very low, it is a safe destination for those wanting to travel. In terms of our health and wellness, Antigua has the highest vaccination rate in the region, and we take our medical facilities very seriously, the government has spent a lot of money building out our medical facility to ensure safety and so that we are in a position to take care of our visitors in case of any emergency.”
Adding his take, James says: “For the Canadian traveller, accessibility is key to us as well. With direct flights from both Toronto and Montreal, when Canadians get here they have a wide range of properties to choose from, from the luxurious 5-star to the small Airbnbs for more intimate vacations. We have a wide range that suits every price point, so whatever your clients’ budget you can find an affordable and safe experience in Antigua and Barbuda. We extend open arms to our Canadians and when it gets cold, remember there are two beautiful islands in the Caribbean, easy to get to and have a fantastic time at, and that is Antigua and Barbuda.”