Antigua and Barbuda Hits Peak Popularity with Travelers
Antigua and Barbuda fully lifted its COVID-19 travel restrictions this fall,
and the twin-island nation is enjoying perhaps its strongest tourism resurgence ever.
Air arrivals in Antigua & Barbuda for July-September 2022 exceeded those enjoyed in 2019, prior to the pandemic, which in turn were the highest visitor numbers ever reported, government officials said. The destination was the first to reopen to international visitors as COVID-19 eased, and in September began allowing anyone to visit regardless of vaccination status.
“Our destination’s popularity has increased with the increase of new airlift and the exciting growth in product, along with the return of Antigua Sailing Week, which is the most sought after regatta on the international calendar,” according to a spokesperson for the Antigua and Barbuda Tourism Authority (ABTA).
“I believe that many travelers have a ‘been there done that’ with Mexico, Dominican Republic and Bahamas and they are now looking seeking new destinations to explore,” says travel advisor Niki Rakowitz, president of Manhattan, Kansas based CARE Travel and a member of Antigua and Barbuda’s travel advisory board, who added that easing entry requirements has also helped boost interest in the destination.
Debra H. Brown, president of Atlanta’s SmartBird World Travel/SB World Luxe Travel and chair of the Antigua & Barbuda travel advisory board, said marketing by the ABTA also deserves some credit for the surge in visitors. “ABTA has done an outstanding job of marketing the destination through print, digital, events, and social media platforms,” she says. “It’s difficult to pick up a trade journal or ad and not see some reference to Antigua and Barbuda.”
Charles Fernandez, Antigua and Barbuda’s tourism minister, outlined the islands’ recently adopted 10-year plan for tourism, which emphasized sustainability, authentic experiences, and delivering greater benefits from the tourist industry to island residents.
The Vision 2032 tourism marketing plan builds on four familiar pillars — romance, yachting and sailing, heritage and culture, and wellness — while also seeking to position Antigua & Barbuda as more of a year-round destination. The latter will be enhanced by the return of Antigua Carnival in July; touted as the “Caribbean’s Greatest Summer Festival.” The annual carnival celebration was put on hold in 2020 and 2021 due to COVID-19.
Brown says that Antigua and Barbuda appeals best to “experienced travelers that enjoy authentic local cultural immersion, water based activities, fine dining, and those that expect a high level of service,” along with “clients that typically vacation seven nights or longer and those seeking relaxation and romance.”
For the first time, “romance” in Antigua & Barbuda is legally inclusive of same-sex couples. In July, the Antigua and Barbuda High Court of Justice held that prohibitions against same-sex sexual activity contained in the 1995 Sexual Offences Act were unconstitutional. The decision was applauded by UNAIDS and other LGBTQ advocacy groups.
“The High Court’s landmark ruling is a beacon for LGBT people in Antigua and Barbuda and other Caribbean nations, whose rights and freedoms have been stymied by these punitive laws,” said Cristian González Cabrera, LGBT rights researcher at Human Rights Watch.
“When a destination welcomes all people, this always impacts the interest in the destination,” says Rakowitz.
“Antigua & Barbuda has always been very accepting, and this is most visible during our welcoming season of Carnival tourists, where an influx of travelers from the LGBT community come to our destination to participate in the pageantry of one of the greatest summer festivals,” says the ABTA spokesperson. “Plus it’s one of the safest destinations in the Caribbean.”
Royalton Chic Resort Announced for Antigua’s Dickenson Bay Beach
Antigua will get its second Royalton-branded all-inclusive resort next year when the new Royalton CHIC Antigua opens on one of the island’s most beautiful beaches.
The 227-room, adults-only resort will be located on Dickenson Bay Beach and will debut in late 2023, according to Blue Diamond Resorts. The resort joins the family friendly Royalton Antigua on Deep Bay, which also debuted the island’s first resort casino in December 2021. The Casino Royale has 80 slot machines and six table games.
“Royalton is an amazing chain of beautiful hotels with great food and affordable room options for everyone,” says Terry Strauss, owner of Massachusetts based agency Dedham Travel and a member of Antigua & Barbuda’s travel advisory board. “Antigua has many chain hotels that clients recognize, as well as many incredible non chain hotels such as Curtain Bluff. From 3-5 star resorts, there is something for everyone.”
The Antigua hotel will be the third Royalton CHIC Resort in the Caribbean, following the debut of the resort concept in Cancun and Punta Cana. Located 18 minutes from V.C. Bird Internationeal Airport, the Royalton CHIC is a renovation of the former Halcyon Hotel and will cater to couples, friends and groups of adults.
Jordi Pelfort, president of hotels and resorts at Sunwing Travel Group, which will operate the hotel, said the Royalton CHIC Resort will be “unique within the all-inclusive segment” in Antigua. The high-energy “Party Your Way” concept will feature a wide variety of activities like DJ-led pool parties, an overwater themed restaurant with live entertainment, mixology bars and a half dozen reservation-free dining options.
Also new in Antigua are 43 ocean-view, cliff-top suites at the Tamarind Hills residential resort on the island’s west coast. The suites all have kitchenettes, bedrooms with four-poster beds, and large bathrooms; some also have terraces with jetted tubs.
The Jolly Beach Resort is expected to reopen as soon as Dec. 1. And the all-inclusive Verandah Resort recently upgraded all 80 of its waterfront suites with new furniture, bathrooms, flooring, and artwork. A new pool at Rasta Beach was added, as well as a new coffee shop and gift shop. Nicole’s restaurant and the resort’s fitness center also got a makeover.
Antigua Airlift Takes Off for Winter
Frontier Airlines will be the first low-cost carrier to serve Antigua & Barbuda when it launches service between Orlando and V.C. Bird International Airport on Dec. 4. Frontier will operate weekly Saturday flights.
“The launch of the new service out of the busy Orlando airport opens up an important gateway to Antigua, with links to major U.S. cities,” said Fernandez. “We can now look forward to meeting the increased demand coming out of the U.S. this winter and from all indications, we can also expect to see more competitive pricing brought on by Frontier Airlines’ affordable rates.”
“Lift from the southeast is always a welcome bonus and drives increased interest and sales, particularly from the Atlanta market and those seeking a shorter stay,” says Brown.
Frontier isn’t the only airline boosting service to Antigua: American Airlines added new service from New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport and VC Bird International Airport, offering daily flights to the island this fall and winter. Air Canada launched significant new service, too, with weekly flights from Toronto and Montreal this winter.
Also, the new Antigua Airlines will take off on the country’s Independence Day, Nov. 1. In an interesting twist, the new airline will begin operations not to one of the Caribbean Island’s big source countries for tourism, the U.S. and U.K., but rather with a flight to Lagos, Nigeria. The reason: Antigua Airlines is a partnership between the government of Antigua & Barbuda and a Nigerian company.