Developments in Paradise – Antigua and Barbuda
Antigua and Barbuda tourism officials say their island is “what cool looks like,”
and international travelers seem to agree.
The Caribbean sister islands ran a summer campaign called “What Cool Looks Like” that included reduced resort rates and a downloadable “Cool Card” with discounts on dining and attractions. Even before the boost delivered by the campaign, however, Antigua and Barbuda was posting record tourism numbers, topping one million visitors for the second straight year in 2018.
From January to September 2019, stayover air arrivals were up 10 percent from the same period in 2018, driven in part by the opening of new upscale resorts like the Royalton Antigua Resort & Spa and the Hodges Bay Resort & Spa. The Hodges Bay resort, part of the Elegant Resorts chain, opened in spring 2019, has a modern contemporary style paired with old fashioned service standards. The beachfront resort has a diverse array of 79 rooms, suites, and villas, so guests can choose from a hotel-like experience or something that feels more residential. Nonsuch Bay, another Antigua newcomer, also has a variety of accommodations to choose from, including rooms, villas, and cottages, all located on a quiet beach on the island’s east end (resort guests also have access to the beaches on Green Island, just offshore).
Coming sooner (in 2020, if developers are to be believed) are Coconut Beach, a 110-unit Marriott Autograph Collection hotel, a Waldorf-Astoria resort on Morris Bay, 84 more villas at Dieppe Bay, and a new Karisma Resort on Valley Church Beach near the Cocobay Resort.
By Air or Sea
In August 2019, JetBlue added a pair of new flights from New York to Antigua’s VC Bird International Airport, and American Airlines is scheduled to resume its second daily flight to the island from Miami in December.
Most significantly, the government signed a deal in June 2019 with Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines to increase cruise port calls to the island with the aim of increasing cruise-ship visitors to Antigua and Barbuda by 500,000 in five years. Antigua has poured more than a hundred million dollars into improvements at the St. John’s cruise port, which will be enhanced by further development funded by Royal Caribbean in order to accommodate the new Oasis class of mega cruise ships.
The destination, known for its collection of romantic luxury resorts, also launched its first wedding registry in June 2019. And on the other end of the tourism spectrum, former boxing champ Mike Tyson has been in talks with the government about building a cannabis-friendly resort on the island.
“Investment in Antigua and Barbuda’s tourism product in recent years has been phenomenal and there is almost $1 billion in brand new tourism-related investment coming into Antigua and Barbuda by early 2020,” said the Hon. Charles ‘Max’ Fernandez, the country’s Minister of Tourism and Investment. Touting the cruise investment and the island’s modern airport, Fernandez added: “At the end of the day we will have not only the best airport but the best cruise port in the entire Caribbean.The pieces are falling into place for us.”
As bright as the outlook seems for Antigua, however, Barbuda has lagged behind. In 2017, Hurricane Irma brought devastation to Barbuda on a monumental scale (while largely bypassing Antigua), lashing the 66-square-mile island with 150 mph winds, damaging more than 90 percent of properties on the island, and forcing a mass evacuation.
Two years later, a couple of hotels have reopened on Barbuda, including the Barbuda Cottages and the boutique Barbuda Belle Hotel, which has eight beach bungalows on Cedar Point. Frangipani Glamping is a new lodging option started by two local sisters who built a simple guesthouse on the beach near Two Foot Bay. The former Coco Point Lodge all-inclusive has reopened as the Barbuda Club, meaning all of the resorts that were operating on the island prior to Irma are now in business again.
Claire Frank, a Barbuda resident who runs the www.barbudaful.net website, says that some people on the island are still living in tents, and electricity is still being restored to some parts of Barbuda. On the bright side, Barbuda is benefitting from a $5.7 million grant from the United Arab Emirates via the CARICOM Development Fund to build a more resilient solar power grid for the island.
Nonetheless, “In terms of tourism, we welcome visitors and are ready to receive them, with most of our infrastructure repaired and so on,” said Frank. “There are guest houses and hotels, and Peace, Love and Happiness [is] building a huge high-end resort all along the south coast of Barbuda.” The same owner, billionaire John Paul DeJoria, and company behind the resort project is planning a large residential community called the Barbuda Ocean Club.
Meanwhile visitors to Barbuda can still visit the island’s mostly deserted beaches and acclaimed Frigate Bird Sanctuary, the latter home to thousands of the huge seabirds, whose wingspan can stretch more than seven feet.
“The best experience is had by independent travelers who are looking for unique Caribbean destinations,” Frank tells travel advisors, noting that day trips from Antigua also are an option. “We are completely undeveloped, so nature is our thing.”