The twin island nation has spent the better part of two days fine-tuning its tourism plan for what it calls ‘Vision 2032’ – a people-centered idea that has been crafted through investigation of the tourism product, and in consultation with stakeholders including industry leaders, tourism operators, and the general public.
On Wednesday, the Ministry of Tourism kicked off a two-day ‘destination roundtable’, the first of its kind, to showcase Antigua and Barbuda to various sections of the industry including hoteliers, airlines, media and tour companies.
Tourism Minister Charles Fernandez said tourism is one of the few exports in which the country is globally competitive, and it has been the leading provider of jobs and opportunities for much of its history as an independent nation.
However, the Covid-19 pandemic has highlighted the vulnerability of Antigua and Barbuda’s bread and butter.
“In 2020, the Covid-19 pandemic caused unmatched destruction to the tourism industry. Total visitor arrivals declined by over 60 percent. The hotels and restaurants sector, closely associated with tourism, was estimated to have contracted by more than half,” he said.
And while the industry’s recovery began in 2021 with a 35 percent increase in stayover arrivals and a 39 percent uptick in visitor expenditure, Fernandez said it has not yet recovered to the level of output recorded in 2019.
“Hence, we cannot leave our future in the tourism industry to chance. In that regard, we have been strengthening communication with you, our tourism stakeholders, for the purpose of collaborating to achieve a modern and world-class tourism industry,” he said.
He said that after consultation with stakeholders, it was clear that the vision for the tourism industry of Antigua and Barbuda would need to be characterised by sustainability, authentic experiences, benefits to Antiguans and Barbudans, a strong legislative and policy framework, and a highly qualified labour force.
“We must and will embark on an aggressive education and awareness campaign geared toward improving Antiguans and Barbudans’ knowledge and awareness of the tourism industry and its importance to our economy and their livelihoods – and the role that they can play in achieving Vision 2032. Now, at this turning point, is the time to rebuild the tourism industry that we envision over the next 10 years and beyond,” he said.
Meanwhile, Colin James, the Chief Executive Officer of the Antigua and Barbuda Tourism Authority, said that despite setbacks from the Covid-19 pandemic, there is hope for the industry.
“We have really passed the worst with the pandemic. I am seeing growth and stability and the numbers are showing that. We have had a remarkable first four months. We are seeing the UK now in total positive territory. There are more UK arrivals now than in 2019 at this time,” James told Observer.
Antigua and Barbuda also came in for high praise from Dominica, whose Tourism Minister Denise Charles told Observer that Antigua has been an example for several islands.
“We have been learning from the Antigua experience. They are doing very well. We have been looking up to Antigua. I must commend Antigua for its health protocols during Covid. It was rigorous but safe. We see the results in the UK… travellers are coming,” she said.
She added that there is room for small islands to work together to ensure everyone reaps the benefits of the tourism sector.