By Ben Kilbey in LondonAntigua and Barbuda are experiencing growth - strong and encouraging growth. With the announcement that Excel Airways will be commencing a weekly service as of December 14, departing from London Gatwick, there are sure signs that Antigua and Barbuda is a ‘hotspot’ for travel to the Caribbean. With a strong British popularity and soaring property growth, Antigua really is a ‘must’ visit Caribbean destination. Caribbean Travel News spoke with Shirlene Nibbs - Antigua and Barbuda’s Director of Tourism - who gave an insight into the way in which the islands are heading and the effectiveness of World Travel Market (WTM) 2004.The UK market has a strong disposition for the Caribbean nations of Antigua and Barbuda.
“The UK is an increasing market - it already takes up 36% of the market share - and it is growing. We intend to do as much promotion and marketing as possible to maintain this growth,” said Nibbs whilst in London recently for WTM.
Dir. Nibbs was enthusiastic about how important WTM is for business to Antigua and sister island Barbuda.
“This year WTM was fantastic. We have had a constant stream of traffic and a lot of interest. There is a new buzz to the product. We have a positive outlook for winter ‘04/‘05 - it is very encouraging with the growth we are seeing,” commented the director.
Antigua and Barbuda aim to appeal to the mid to upper end of the leisure travel market and recently welcomed the reopening of Antigua’s leading luxury resort Curtain Bluff. During closure, the resort’s ‘Bluff’ suites were renovated incorporating new bathrooms and furniture.
“We position ourselves in the mid to upper end of the market with a high emphasis on quality whilst offering a variety of experiences,” and there is a vast amount of interest coming from large luxury chains. “We are working hard to really grow our accommodation sector particularly with the up-and-coming Cricket World Cup in ‘07. We want to increase from 3000 rooms to 6000 - we have a lot of interest in the high end with the introduction of Four Seasons, Ritz-Carlton and La Perla Villas,” added Nibbs.
Antigua and Barbuda also offer good variety to the visitor - being able to offer, what Shirlene describes as a, ‘Double Pleasure’ break. This consists of a two part holiday, one on Antigua and the other on Barbuda.
“We promote a ‘Double Pleasure’ with Antigua being the island incorporating soft adventure, sport and the majority of attractions whilst Barbuda is more eco-tourism related - tranquil - Barbuda is more for the nature lover. The split site is also very popular for day tours.”
The islands really do offer a vast array of experiences and choice for the traveller. As such Excel are not the only airline interested in offering airlift to the increasingly popular destination - there is big interest from other major players as well.
“We are very excited about the new BMI service from Manchester that commenced on Nov 27. This really opens up the Northern market. We have further commitment from Virgin Airways who will begin service in ‘05. We are also working on direct airlift from Germany.
A sure sign of a destinations popularity is increased airlift. If the demand is there then the planes will deliver.
Commenting on the dditional airlift to Antigua from Excel, Minister of Tourism, Hon. Harold Lovell said: “Excel Airways is a welcome addition to Antigua’s weekly flight schedule from the UK, particularly as it offers Antigua and Barbuda’s visitors such an excellent choice of fare options from real bargains to real style”.
There is something even more important in the overall marketing of Antigua and Barbuda as a destination - and angle that allows the visitor to really get a feel of life on the island and an opportunity to interact with local people.
“Our key focus right now is our culture and history/heritage. We are packing our calendars with lots of events, Carnival, Sailing Week - sailing is very big in Antigua - we are also focusing on the community involvement so that the visitor has a more cultural experience.”
One good example of this interacting and cultural experience is the Fish Festival of which the director says, “a prime example of our drive towards the culture and heritage market is our Fish Festival - this is a cultural exchange, we will get people staying with traditional fishing families and getting involved in the fishing and day-to-day activities. This can be very rewarding for the visitor.”
With so much on offer it is difficult to argue that Antigua and Barbuda is a massively expanding and exciting destination. With the approaching Cricket World Cup and the increase in Luxury accommodation - the variety of the islands appeal is greatly increased.
It is possible to get a true feel of island life with the drive towards cultural exchange - this is a massive boost to island moral and allows the visitor to see more then just an all-inclusive or luxury brand - they instead get to actually taste what Antigua and Barbuda have to offer. This is a vital ingredient to a real Caribbean experience.
For more information on the destination including activities, attractions etc. go to www.antigua-barbuda.org