The recent opening of Antigua’s new international airport has led to a surge of new airlift for the Caribbean destination, explained Colin James, chief executive of the Antigua and Barbuda Tourism Authority.
James called the airport, which opened in September, the “most modern and largest in all of eastern Caribbean”.
A range of new routes which increases connectivity among Caribbean countries will allow access to source markets that Antigua and Barbuda has never had before.
“New regional carriers are opening up access from destinations we would not normally have,” explained James. “Flights from Saint Petersburg, Moscow, Madrid all come into Punta Cana [in the Dominican Republic] from where it’s only a one and a half hour flight to Antigua.”
He commented that the growth of low-cost regional carriers could “absolutely” provide a massive boost for tourism in Antigua and Barbuda.
A total of four new routes will launch within the next two months: Jet Blue’s service from JFK will serve the destination three times a week as of November 5; InterCaribbean Airways’ service from Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, will fly twice a week, starting December 10; Seaborne Airlines will service Puerto Rico four times a week, starting December 13; and a weekly charter service from Italy launches with Alitalia on December 20.
Additionally, Delta Air Lines has upped the number of weekly flights from one to two.
The UK is still proving one of the destination’s strongest source markets, with an increase of more than 8,600 arrivals for the year so far, though overall visitor numbers are down by 4.2% compared to the same time last year.
James said there was still “so much room to grow in existing markets”, such as the UK, and that the tourism authority is targeting increased airlift from the north of England in the coming year.
Despite the overall drop in numbers there has been a rise in tourism revenue for Antigua and Barbuda of some 10%.
James added: “The UK is neck and neck with the US [in terms of the number of arrivals] but the UK is worth more to us as they stay longer [and therefore] offer a higher yield. We’ve had a very positive year. The numbers are strong and so are forward bookings – we’re well on our way to filling up that new international airport.”
The cruise market is also booming for the destination: between January and June cruise passenger arrivals were up 25% year-on-year.
“Cruise is very strong,” said James. “We recently dredged the harbour and there are plans for a $93m investment for landside developments at St. John’s to be completed between January 2017 and June 2017. That would position us to take the very large cruise lines, like Oasis of the Seas.”