In an effort to raise awareness within the Canadian travel trade, Antigua & Barbuda's Minister of Tourism, Economic Development and Energy paid a visit to Toronto last week, meeting with partners and speaking with media.
Asot Michael was appointed to office in June, and has since been working to foster the industry within the region.
"Tourism is our main engine of growth and as the Minister with the responsibility of the tourism portfolio, I am charged with ensuring that tourism increases employment for our nationals, earns more foreign exchange, provides revenue for our government, and raises the national income," he said in a press briefing. "It will be hard work but be assured that we are ready."
The destination has seen "robust growth" in Canadian visitation, he went on, reporting an increase of about 20 per cent for each of the past three years. The tourism office credits such growth to healthy airlift out of Toronto and Montreal, and is eager to maintain and develop these connections.
"We realize that in order for Antigua and Barbuda to remain competitive, we need to grow the number of arrivals from Canada over the next five years," Michael said. "We know a stronger presence in the marketplace is the foundation for increasing arrivals."
Developments are being made to further encourage growth from various international markets, such as a new airport terminal, set to be the largest in the Eastern Caribbean. It is scheduled to open by March of next year, equipped with jet bridges, multiple VIP lounges, and high-end duty free shops.
"The new terminal will greatly improve the visitor experience, with the potential for us to double the current capacity of visitors that pass through our international airport," said the Minister.
In addition, China's Yida International Investment has signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the country's prime minister for a US$2 billion resort development that includes the construction of five-star hotels, a golf course, 1,300 residential units, shopping facilities, a modern conference centre and a casino.
Also in the way of hotels, Sandals Resorts International will be breaking ground for a 400-room Beaches Resort early next year, while other existing properties are investing in upgrading their product. By the end of 2015, Antigua and Barbuda expects the number of hotel beds to double over this year to about 6,000 versus the current 3,200.
The cruise industry is another area where the ministry is directing investments, "making it far more beautiful and economically vibrant."
This means new restaurants, a boardwalk and the opening of high-end shops, transforming the port of St. John's and Heritage Quay.
As the product develops, Michael said the task at-hand is to court travel partners to increase their Antigua tourism allotment.
Photo: Colin James, CEO, Anitgua & Barbusa Tourism Authority; Asot Michael, Minister of Tourism, Economic Development and Energy, Antigua & Barbuda; Ann-Marie Layne, consul general, Consulate General of Antigua & Barbuda; and Rohan Hector, special advisor to the Minister.