If you need an extra spark of hope, especially in this uncertain global market, then Tourism Blast Off, the official launch of the country’s cruise tourism season did just that.
On Tuesday, tourism officials and other dignitaries gathered at Fifth Berth at the Heritage Quay, to officially kick-start, what is expected to be a record-breaking season, surpassing pre-Covid numbers.
Tourism Minister Charles “Max” Fernandez, who has been at the helm of the industry for several years was commended for his exemplary work in the industry that is in no doubt the bread basket of the country.
And while not taking all the praises unto himself, Fernandez told those gathered that the success of the industry, especially where ports are concerned, could not have been possible without Global Port Holdings.
Although the agreement was highly criticized, Fernandez says the partnership on the cruise facility has set the twin island state on a new part to having the best cruise and cargo port in the Caribbean.
He said following the agreement with Antigua and Barbuda with GPH; the largest cruise port operator in the world; several other countries have now signed with the company.
“Since then, St Lucia and the Bahamas have signed and I am aware that several other islands which have since approached them will probably since be signing. I am also aware that they are in an advanced stage of negotiations to sign with Puerto Rico. So, Antigua has led the way once again in the region,” Fernandez said.
2020 and 2021 were notably two of the most uncertain years in the history of the Antiguan and Barbudan economy; as it has been around the world.
However, Fernandez said the drive creativity, resilience, and fortitude exhibited by the workers has brought the country bouncing back in every pillar of its tourism product
“Not just to pre-pandemic levels but the best levels…”, he said.
Meanwhile, the construction of the fifth berth and dredging of the habour basin was completed with a total length of about 1500 feet, giving the country the ability to accommodate the Oasis-class cruise ships.
“So, the fifth berth can now accommodate the largest cruise ships in the world. In addition, Antigua can now accommodate up to five vessels simultaneously,” he explained.
Before the Covid-19 pandemic, Antigua handled about 800,000 passengers annually but now under the new agreement with GPH, the destination will be able to handle one million passengers annually.
Meanwhile, Chief Executive Officer of the Antigua and Barbuda Port Authority Colin James says the cruise lines are continuing to build large vessels, and Antigua and Barbuda is well positioned to benefit from the latest trends.
“Antigua and Barbuda is set on a trajectory of upward growth in our cruise tourism sector. In October we had 5 calls, in November we had 40 and we had 78 calls this month. January we are expected to see our busiest months with over 135,000 cruise passengers visiting St Johns,” James said.
Dona-Regis Prosper, also addressed Tuesday’s official launch, saying that by the end of the season, the country will welcome over six hundred thousand passengers.
Prosper who is also the port manager said the country is expecting in-transit calls and also home porting calls.
“By the end of the season, we will be welcoming over 600,000 passengers and 30,000 plus passengers in the summer month…” she said.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Gaston Browne said a major redevelopment project will get underway at the habour
The hope is to construct new shops on the water front and Browne said residents should pool their resources to invest in the project since the idea is to have these new amenities privately owned.