Breaking Travel News interview: Stacey Liburd, director of tourism, Anguilla Tourist Board
The Caribbean island of Anguilla is looking ahead to the summer with renewed optimism after carefully managing the response to the Covid-19 crisis to offer a super-safe destination for sunseekers post-pandemic.
A growing number of residents are being vaccinated against the virus, while strict protocols are in place to ensure any cases are quickly caught and contained.
As Stacey Liburd, the director of tourism on Anguilla tells Breaking Travel News: “We are hoping to open the island in its entirety for the summer and to do this we need 70 per cent of the local population vaccinated against Covid-19.
“Currently, we have vaccinated around 4,500 people from a total of 5,900 who have registered to date – with 12,800 being the ambition.
“Once we get there, the government will be in a position to relax the Covid-19 protocols we have in place and open our borders.
“Realistically, we hope to get to this mark by June and this should coincide nicely with the reopening of the UK outbound market.”
A British Overseas Territory in the eastern Caribbean, the UK is an important source of visitors for Anguilla.
With the reopening of the UK outbound sector pencilled in for May 17th, there is hope Brits may choose the Caribbean destination as the location for their first breaks in more than a year.
“Mostly, we are seeing people who have the flexibility to jump on a private jet visiting at the moment, but obviously that is not a large market,” continues Liburd.
“But I would like to stress that Anguilla does not just cater to high-net-worth individuals, we also have a tremendous range of mid-market properties, villas and Airbnb.
“You do not need to make six-figures in order to enjoy Anguilla.
“Remember, all of the beaches in Anguilla are public – so even if you are at a five-star resort, or a more modest villa, you are still getting the same view, the same experience by the sea.”
She adds: “What we have seen is a lot of last-minute bookings – right up until a week before arrival.
“Hotels are not seeing the usual months of pre-planning, so it is very hard to gauge where we will be next month.
“What we can see is that we are shaping up for a strong third and four quarter this year – so it is important we get as many vaccinations as possible.
“Of course, we are in a race against the other islands, we want to be the first to really open up.”
Anguilla currently has no cases of Covid-19, and has in fact recorded only 18 cases, all of which were imported, since the pandemic began.
There have been zero deaths, zero community spread and there are zero active cases on island today.
Liburd explains: “Anguilla should reap the benefits of our stringent safety measures in our bookings for 2021 and beyond, as the travel market slowly returns.
“We have worked extremely hard to earn our reputation on the safe list.
“We are currently accepting guests, but under very strict protocols – we are trying to offer as close to a normal vacation as possible, but certain freedoms remain impossible currently.
“Upon arrival guests receive their first PCR test, and we aim to get the results back to you within 24-hours.
“For the first night, guests have to stay in their approved accommodation – until they receive a negative test result.
“At this point, you enter the ‘holiday bubble,’ which allows you to enjoy activities such as horse riding, golf and water sports – but you cannot hop in a rental car and explore the island, for example.
“The aim is that we can account for you at any time – to track your movements – if we do get any cases.”
Should the worst happen, there are also plans in place, the tourism chief adds.
“If you test positive you are taken care of here on the island – but we have had very few cases to date.
“Each property has an isolation area should it be needed.
“That first test is so important on arrival, even if you tested negative before departure, there is still a chance you could have contracted Covid-19 on route, or you could have been asymptomatic,” Liburd says.
Liburd took up her role in January this year, and has big plans as the tourism sector reopens.
“This position has not been filled for six years, so there is a lot of work to be done, to assess what has been missing,” she continues.
“We have a chief marketing officer starting in April, for example.
“But my agenda also focuses on the benefits of the sector, we cannot just market tourism to tourists, we also have to sell it to the people who live on the island.
“Covid-19 has forced us in that direction – which has been one of the positive things to come out of the pandemic, people on the island have been able to enjoy the destination.
“There is also some low-hanging fruit we can take advantage of, including regional travel, where we have been working to create packages and offers for visitors from our neighbouring islands.
“This is something we have never had before.”
She adds: “I am looking to rebuild bridges between Anguilla Tourist Board and the private sector, and I have been seeking the hard truth in one-on-one meetings to find out where we have dropped the ball.
“Our private sector partners have been asked what they need from us and we are trying to mend those relationships, to work in unison with the private sector.
“The message has been convoluted because we are not on the same page – but we are now working on flying in formation and presenting a unified message.”
Of course, as with any island destination, airlift remains vital, and as the Covid-19 clouds gradually clear this year, this will be a key area of focus for the tourist board.
“I will be working to connect the island,” says Liburd.
“Carriers, such as JetBlue, if we can get a direct connection from Fort Lauderdale that would be huge, or a connection from Antigua, for example.
“But we must add new hubs; a connection from Punta Cana in Dominican Republic into Anguilla, for example, would open up a whole new world for us.
“We have big ambitions for the year ahead.”
Finally, hoteliers on the island are taking the chance to improve their offering during the enforced Covid-19 shutdown, suggesting the destination will be in tip-top shape once travellers return.
“CuisinArt Golf Resort & Spa is under new ownership and management and the product is going to go through a total overhaul – which will add things we have not seen before here on the island,” adds Liburd.
“This should be ready for the new season, in November, and they will be working to promote this from the third quarter of the year.
“But across the island, folks are using the downtime to improve their offerings – restaurants, for example, are being developed everywhere.
“With that in mind, we are looking at hosting a culinary food festival in November, perhaps featuring Kerth Gumbs, who you will know from Ormer there in the UK,” she concludes.
Some 4,077 tourists from the UK visited Anguilla in 2019, the highest ever number, from a total of 95,375.
Access to Anguilla from the UK is either via Virgin Atlantic and British Airways to Antigua followed by a local charter flight to the island, or with KLM/Air France from London via Schiphol or Paris to St Maarten, from where Anguilla is a short boat trip across the water.
This year, Anguilla leased a second dock for the St Maarten-Anguilla route allowing more space for the pickup and drop off of passengers.
Find out more on the official website.
Images: Anguilla Tourist Board