The return of two international airlines to Antigua and Barbuda in the span of a few days has filled Tourism Minister, Charles ‘Max’ Fernandez, with optimism regarding the country’s economic recovery amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.
Fernandez said he welcomes this week’s return of Virgin Atlantic from Heathrow Airport in the United Kingdom as a significant fillip to the economy.
Virgin Atlantic’s return comes seven days ahead of Air Canada’s on November 1.
“This represents the fruits of all the hard work that the government, and in particular the Ministry of Tourism, to have the international flights return to Antigua and Barbuda. It required intense negotiations because we had a situation where the hotels did not want to reopen unless the airlines returned and the airlines did not want to come without hotel rooms for their passengers,” Fernandez explained.
The tourism minister said most hotels should reopen by the end of |November as the industry works to return to normality. So far, hotels have been booked at about fifty percent occupancy.
According to the minister, the pandemic has impacted bookings.
“What is happening is that people are not making long term bookings because of the uncertainty of what is happening in the source markets – the United States, Canada and the UK – with the coronavirus or even here in Antigua and Barbuda,” Fernandez said.
He identified this uncertainty as an area of concern for his ministry and the government but added that LIAT’s November relaunch brings a welcomed spark of hope.
“The international carriers such as Virgin Atlantic are telling us that they welcome LIAT’s return as they can be assured that their passengers can land at Antigua, for example, and travel to other destinations.”
Fernandez said the government’s desire to see Antigua and Barbuda serve as a hub for international flights, cruise passengers and cargo is moving closer to becoming a reality.
With respect to the cruise industry, the minister said he anticipates the return of cruise ships by December and confirmed that Antigua and Barbuda is on the itineraries of major cruise lines. He revealed that discussions are ongoing with the Florida Caribbean Cruise Association (FCCA) concerning the restart of the cruise industry. He added that the FCCA is awaiting approval from the United States’ Center for Disease Control to allow ships to return to operation.
The current cruise travel ban comes to an end at the close of November.