Travel Agent recently invited Caribbean tourism delegates to a roundtable discussion in New York to get firsthand status updates from both the islands that were devastated by last year’s hurricane season and the ones that escaped major damage.
Included in the discussion were Kim Jack Riley, Antigua and Barbuda’s director of tourism for the USA; Cardigan Connor, parliamentary secretary for Anguilla's tourism sector; Petra Roach, U.S. director of Barbados Tourism Marketing Inc.; Celia Ross-Latham, director of sales for the St. Vincent and The Grenadines Tourism Office; Victoria Isley, chief sales and marketing officer at the Bermuda Tourism Authority; Perla George, business development director for North America at the British Virgin Islands Tourist Board; Mikala Moss, area manager for New York for the Bahamas Tourist Office; Christine Noel-Horsford, director of sales and marketing for the Grenada Tourism Authority; and Sylma Brown, director for the U.S. for the Caribbean Tourism Organization (CTO).
Ruthanne Terrero and Joe Pike of Travel Agent magazine and Travel Agent Central moderated the conversation.
In this piece, we focus on the latest travel updates in Antigua and Barbuda provided to us by Kim Jack-Riley, Antigua and Barbuda’s director of tourism for the USA. Be sure to keep following Travel Agent in the coming weeks as we will break down the status updates from some of the other destinations involved in the discussion.
Impact of the Hurricane Season
While Antigua received only minimal damage from both hurricanes last year, its sister island, Barbuda, was perhaps the most devastated of the Caribbean Islands, with Gaston Browne, the prime minister of Antigua and Barbuda, even announcing at the time that "Barbuda now is literally rubble.”
But in the months that have passed since, Kim Jack Riley, Antigua and Barbuda’s director of tourism for the USA, says the sadness from the hurricane has now morphed into an excitement for renewal.
And for Barbuda, that renewal is being championed by famous actor, Robert De Niro, who planned to build a hotel on the island before the hurricanes set back the progress a bit.
But Colin C. James, CEO of the Antigua and Barbuda Tourism Authority (ABTA), told media at the Caribbean Travel Marketplace back in January that De Niro's planned hotel for Barbuda could be open as early as 2020.
"Nothing has changed from his plan," James said at the time. "And the fact that someone with a proven track record is willing to stay with it says a lot about his confidence in the destination and his willingness to make it work.”
Back in June of last year, James told Travel Agent the hotel was about 14 months away from opening, which means it was scheduled to open about a year from when the hurricanes hit. However, James told Travel Agent that only preparation work had begun on the new project.
“The word hurricane is going to be a reoccurring theme, but what we are seeing after the hurricane is that there has been this renewal and new attitude toward tourism, so everyone is really excited,” says Jack Riley. “I’m really feeling an excitement, that people want to put that behind us, and because they know that there are still great things to do and great things to see.”
As far as trending hotel news on Antigua goes, Jack Riley says the island continues to increase its luxury products with the recent announcement that Jumby Bay, A Rosewood Resort will be joining the Oetker Collection when it reopens on October 9, becoming the tenth property in the portfolio.
It was also announced toward the end of last year that Waldorf Astoria Hotels & Resorts, Hilton's luxury brand of landmark hotels, signed a management agreement with Callaloo Cay Antigua for the brand’s first new-build resort in the Caribbean, Waldorf Astoria Antigua.
Scheduled to open in 2020, the hotel will be located in a cove along the southeastern coast of Antigua at Morris Bay Beach, roughly 20 minutes from V.C. Bird International Airport.
The resort’s 95 guest rooms and 25 branded villas, including beachfront suites and hilltop accommodations, will offer views of the bay and its surroundings. Waldorf Astoria Antigua will offer 30 acres of beachfront as well as a bluff overlooking the Cades Bay.
Also, Rosewood Hotels & Resorts has been appointed by Vancouver-based property development company, Replay Destinations, to manage Rosewood Half Moon Bay Antigua, which will open in 2021 in the Caribbean’s West Indies.
The resort will be situated on 132 oceanfront acres along Half Moon Bay. The former Half Moon Bay Hotel was established in the 1950’s, and for decades was a sought-after vacation destination and resort playground for the international jet set.
“As a people, we’re humble, but we’re just now really embracing the fact that the word ‘luxury’ is not a dirty word, and luxury, in fact, doesn’t necessarily mean a reflection of monetary value,” says Jack Riley. “It’s actually the value of an experience. It’s a luxury for most people to have three weeks to spare, a holiday. We are actually embracing the term ‘luxury,’ recognizing that we can provide a luxury experience that does not necessarily have to do with chandeliers and gold plates.”
The Island’s Biggest Challenge
Like Anguilla, Jack Riley tells Travel Agent airlift is also an ongoing challenge for Antigua and Barbuda. While the destination has adequate airlift from New York, Miami and Atlanta, Jack Riley says more airlift to the to Mid-West and West Coast markets would increase Antigua and Barbuda's tourism arrivals significantly.
“The pressing issue for Antigua and Barbuda continues to be air lift, so we are plodding along, plodding along, trying to increase not only the frequency of flights, but it’s also where the flight are coming from,” says Jack Riley. “I mean, right now we’re restricted to New York, Miami, New York, Miami.
"We do have, obviously, Atlanta, but we really would like to see a better way for visitors, for example, from the Chicago region, Midwest, to be able to connect or even better fly directly, as well as the West Coast, because we have so much interest from the West Coast. We really would like to have more air lift.”
Visit www.visitantiguabarbuda.com and keep visiting www.travelagentcentral.com for all your latest travel news. Be sure to follow Travel Agent’s Joe Pike on Twitter @TravelPike and Instagram @pike5260.