One-on-One With Antigua's Tourism Minister

Travel Agent recently chatted with Antigua and Barbuda's Minister of Tourism, John Maginley, and got the skinny on everything from the destination’s revamped website to its ongoing commitment to agents.

TV Spots, New Flights Strengthen Markets

As far as flight news goes, Maginley says West Jet just started two flights a week out of the Toronto area and “that’s really exciting for us because we continue to grow the Canadian market.”

The U.S market, however, continues to be Antigua’s strongest. In fact, arrivals from the U.S. increased 14 percent from January to September, compared to the same period in 2011.

Why the big spike?

Maginley attributes it to the small, yet extremely effective, TV ads Antigua has been doing on ABC throughout 2012. Antigua introduced promotions to the destination on ABC in both Miami and the New Jersey/New York area. Maginley also says Antigua has conducted some positive TV spots in Hartford.

“We really focused on TV spots in only the places where we have adequate airlift,” says Maginley. “We can’t advertise everywhere. We often get compared to islands like Barbados, St. Lucia and Jamaica. And while that is flattering, the size of those islands compared to ours is much different. We have a total of 3,500 hotel rooms and a total tourism budget of $18 million. So, you can see we are a very small country.”

The Hamptons Effect

With a very small marketing budget, Maginley is tasked with being as frugal and creative as possible. For example, Antigua paid an affordable amount to host a recent yachting event this summer in the Hamptons in New York, The Antigua and Barbuda Hamptons Challenge, which was a 25-yacht race. And it seemed to work.

“When you have a total budget of $18 million, you need be heavily involved in creative marketing,” he says. “We sponsored a small sailing event in the Hamptons (in New York) this summer and what a great opportunity it turned out to be. We are a yachting and sailing destination, so why not sponsor this event with hopes of having our guests learn about the sailing events and competitions we host in Antigua every year?”

And a love for yachting wasn’t the only factor that attracted Maginley to the Hamptons.

“The people at this event have the same passions and interests as the type of travelers we usually get to Antigua,” he says. “But they also have the money. They have the disposable income to take two to three trips a year. And that's who we usually target. So we are using that event as a driving force to continue growth out of the Northeast. In fact, we plan on sponsoring this event for years to come.”

Making Agents’ Jobs Easier

And with events like the yachting challenge in the Hamptons, Antigua continues to slowly build brand recognition.

“The travel agent community is such a vital part to Antigua, so we will continue to constantly educate them with fam trips, etc.,” he says. “But we want to make their jobs a little easier by educating the consumer just as much. We don’t want an agent to have to pitch Antigua to someone. We want a consumer to walk in an agent’s office and say, “I’m here to talk about Antigua. What can you tell me?”

And part of building that brand recognition was cleaning up the web site mess that Antigua had on its hands for quite some time.

“When I came in three years ago, we had like five website promoting Antigua and they all had a different message,” he says. “So, I eventually decided to scrap all of them and developed one integrated online strategy.”

And that strategy called for revamping the destination’s website, which will be unveiled in November. The remodeled site will have all the comprehensive information both an agent and consumer needs to know about Antigua and Barbuda. They will be linked to all notable social media sites and will have a heavy focus on business-to-business modules as well.

“Before we had all these sites with all this different information,” he says. “You couldn’t get everything you were looking for from just one site. With this new site, you can quickly research your area of interest. Is it sailing you’re looking for? Boom. There is a video of sailing. Is it the sting rays that brought you here? Boom. There’s a video of the sting rays. I don’t have the marketing dollars to things like they do in Jamaica. But I do have the marketing dollars to put together a world class web page.”

Maginley says the website is also going to be vital in introducing so many unknown, smaller hotels to the rest of the world.

“You come to Antigua and you see all these small, little boutique hotels that all have their own cuteness and identity, but how do they market themselves in this very big world?,” he says. “Now, you can have someone on the site who may be thinking, “Ok, I know Antigua has a Sandals, but I can’t afford that. Let me see if there is a place that I can afford.’ And we will provide you with all of that information.”

Beaches Resort Coming to Antigua?

Antigua is already home to a Sandals in the form of the Sandals Grande Antigua Resort & Spa, but Maginley says he would also like the company to open up one of its family-friendly Beaches resorts in the destination as well.

Maginley told us he has been lobbying to Sandals Resorts International Chairman Gordon “Butch” Stewart to convince the Caribbean entrepreneur to convert his Grand Pineapple Beach Antigua into the first Beaches resort in the destination.

“About two-three years ago, when everyone was doing bad, I asked Butch to make that property a Beaches because Grand Pineapple was just bleeding,” he says. “What it was costing to maintain that property was just sucking up the budgets of his other properties. Butch was very gun-ho about it. Then Antigua’s numbers rebounded and Grand Pineapple’s number rebounded and he wasn’t as willing to go forward with it as he once was. But I think I’ll stay on him about that.”

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