ST. JOHNS, Antigua – Members of the Antigua and Barbuda, Cruise Tourism Association (ABCTA), The Antigua Pier Group LTD, The St. John’s Development Corporation, The Antigua Hotels and Tourist Association (AHTA), and the media, assembled at the Heritage Hotel in downtown St. Johns for a consultative meeting regarding the way forward for the cruise industry in Antigua and Barbuda.
The visit that has been scheduled by the executive of the Florida Caribbean Cruise Association (FCCA) after an invitation by Tourism Minister the Hon. John Maginley, was welcomed with opened arms considering recent events involving cruise passengers and their experiences upon arrival in Antigua, aboard the vessels that are operated by FCCA member lines.
Minister of Tourism, The Hon. John Maginley was especially pleased to welcome the grouping during the morning ceremony, highlighting the fact that it is not the first consultative activity of its kind between tourism officials and the FCCA, as a partnership has been fostered with the international Cruise Association over the years and in regards to the many issues that can affect the cruise industry.
The Hon. Minister who made an early exit from the consultative session in preparation for a Cabinet briefing with the same grouping later, sought to thank the executive members profusely for their visit as well as admonishing them to continue to work with the stakeholders crafting recommendations and collaborating to boost the Antiguan Cruise business making it a profitable investment for all stakeholders involved.
CEO of the Antigua and Barbuda Tourism Authority, Colin James mentioned the fact that Antigua and Barbuda has been featured prominently at every marketing Cruise Event that is hosted world-wide, as well as in all Cruise Trade publications.
In highlighting the positive attributes of the twin island destination, James recalled the plethora of activities that are available as tours and special attractions for the cruise ship visitors to partake in on arrival to Antigua; these inclusive of Sub Cat Antigua, Stingray City, Rainforest Canopy Tours, The Wadadli Nature Park Experience and the list goes on. It was also worthy to note that unlike other ports of entry, the vessels that dock in St. John’s are brought to the heart of the city where all commercial activity is centered and do not have to be shuttled from port to location. The timely issue of safety and security was addressed by the Deputy Commissioner of Police, Neil Parker who underscored the initiatives being taken by the Royal Police Force of Antigua and Barbuda to curb and prevent crime in the country. Among the measures mentioned is the Crime Stoppers Forum, the Dare Program in schools targeting 6th graders, ongoing work with the ONDCP and the National defense Force of Antigua and Barbuda and work with private security firms providing training and intelligence for increased efficiency.
The Deputy made mention of a newly installed special operations unit put in place to deal with hard crime. All in all, the thrust of the police is to increase effectiveness even with limited resources, by practicing more intelligent policing. Inspector Neil stated that this has earned the police a 100% solve rate in murders so far for this year, with a boast of solving 11 out of 16 murders in the previous year. The FCCA officials were told that it is the main objective of the police going forward to adopt a risk management strategy by placing resources in crime central areas and in all areas where tourist activity is at a peak anywhere across the island. President of the FCCA, Michelle Paige commended the consultative process stating that it all starts with the private sector. Pinpointing the fact that the cruise industry has a lot of growth potential, Ms. Paige indicated the addition of 26 new vessels to the FCCA’s itinerary over the next 3 years, stating that presently 37% of their itinerary comes to the Caribbean. Paige highlighted the role of the organization in cruise oriented destinations (in partnership with government and private sector) as being in areas of port improvement, research and outreach programs, and as such the visit to Antigua enabled the team to zero in on some of the improvements that can be made to the Antiguan experience.
The FCCA President says, happy passengers spend money and in encouraging passengers to spend, the destination has to ask, does our facility enable visitors to feel welcomed (surroundings), do they know where to go (signage and activities ), and do they feel safe doing so (safety and security)? One of the points made was that Antigua has lost some of its visitor spend status and that can be attributed to many factors; however, one thing for sure is that new and innovative products must be offered in a visitor friendly environment because the Caribbean isn’t the only destination to cruise to and efforts must be made to continuously re-vitalize the experience.
Another peeve that came to light during the consultations is the high cost of transportation services in Antigua and Barbuda, and according to Mr. Amilicar Cascais, VP of Tour Operations (Carnival Cruise lines); this can be attributed to the fact that the service in Antigua is non-competitive. Other issues came to the fore during the deliberations, and ABCTA members queried issues such as increased calls to Antigua during the summer months, and product marketing.
As a follow-up, all partners were encouraged to make it an annual activity to attend the FCCA Cruise Conference and Trade Show, which will be held this year in Santo Domingo from October 25-29. For many Cruise executives and destinations, suppliers and tour operators, this provides an opportunity to meet in a roundtable format with key players to analyze industry trends and discuss current issues.