World Tourism Day Remarks

asot-michaelHon. Asot A. Michael
Minister of Tourism, Economic Development,
Investment & Energy
Government of Antigua and Barbuda
World Tourism Day Remarks
September 27, 2016

A pleasant Good Morning, to the nation of Antigua and Barbuda.
Today, we’re celebrating World Tourism Day. Founded by the World Tourism Organization, a specialized agency of the United Nations, the day is geared to foster awareness among the international community of the importance of tourism and its social, cultural, political and economic value.

September 27th is the day is set aside on the United Nations Calendar each year in celebration, and to mark our efforts – to highlight tourism’s potential to contribute to our Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and to address some of the most pressing issues facing the tourism industry today.

Globally, Tourism accounts for 9.8% of the GDP – US$7.2 trillion, the travel & tourism sector employs 7 times more people than the automotive industry, and represents 1 in 11 jobs – 284 million people employed in the industry.

For the fifth consecutive year, the outlook for Travel & Tourism in 2016 remains robust, despite economic fragilities and other sources of volatility in the wider market. The GDP’s growth contribution is expected to accelerate and again outpace growth of the wider economy. Stronger growth in 2016 is likely to be underpinned by an improving global economy, the lowest oil prices in more than a decade, and overall household finances and disposable income will benefit from reduced energy costs.

Saying this, in the last year, safety and security concerns have moved into the spotlight, with recent incidences in Europe and we have to assume that these issues will continue to cause individuals concern. Thankfully, Antigua and Barbuda has an incredibly strong safety record. In fact we have made the decision to emphasize this strong selling point and so we will ensure that we consistently share this message with potential visitors. We are actively working to ensure that this standard is maintained so our visitors can feel safe when traveling to and spending their vacations in Antigua and Barbuda.

Other factors influencing the flow of travelers around the world include the strength of the US dollar relative to other currencies and the shifting price of competitiveness of destinations.

This is of course the viewpoint on a global level.
Drilling down to the Caribbean, the total contribution of the travel & tourism sector to the regions GDP in 2015 was US$53.1 billion, and is forecast to rise by 2.7% in 2016. It supported 13.3% of total employment (2,255,000 jobs) and is expected to rise by almost 1% this year to 2,276,000 jobs. Of the 12 regions in the world, the Caribbean ranked the highest as having the travel and tourism sector contribute to the GDP based on relative size. Essentially: the Caribbean is the region most reliant on travel and tourism to building the economy in the entire world. For us at home Tourism continues to be the most critical industry underpinning our local economy.

For Antigua and Barbuda, travel and tourism contributed to 57.1% of the GDP in 2015 and is forecast to rise by 3.5% in 2016. In regards to employment, 51.6% of total employment – 18,500 jobs – were directly and indirectly supported by the industry. This is expected to rise to 18,500 jobs this year.

I share these figures with you so that everyone can truly understand the importance of the travel and tourism industry in Antigua and Barbuda. We aren’t speaking in platitudes and nebulous agendas. Travel and tourism is the lifeblood of the economy of Antigua and Barbuda, and therefore the future and growth of our wonderful country relies on the success of travel and tourism. The charge that I constantly give to every member of the teams in the Ministry of Tourism and The Tourism Authority is that peoples’ hopes, dreams, livelihood and future are directly related to their work. Their jobs are making a difference for people’s lives.

The good news is that 2016 has been a strong year for tourism, as we have seen double-digit growth in visitor arrivals. Even better news is that not only are we increasing our visitor arrivals, the visitors are also spending more money while on-island. Data from the Eastern Caribbean Central Bank shows that visitors spent around 40 million EC dollars more in Antigua and Barbuda for the first three months of this year (so January through March) over the same time period, with just over 314 million EC being spent. We expect that this increase in spend which is directly linked to visitor air arrivals will be reflected throughout the rest of the year, hopefully exceeding projected growth.

In addition, we have been fortunate to announce the start of multiple new tourism construction projects, including re-opening Ocean Point for the incredibly popular Eden Viaggi/Alitalia charter and re-opening of Pineapple Beach Club next month with renovations and rebrand as an adults only resort. The Hodges Bay Resort and Spa is set to open in March of next year – meaning we’ll have an entirely new high-end property with one-bedroom suites, villas, and townhouses to appeal to visitors. The result of these increases in room availability will ultimately help us to attract even more airlift.

While outside factors are always going to affect tourism, the travel & tourism industry is a key force for good, and it has proven time and again that it is strong and adaptable enough to face any challenges. It will continue to grow, to create jobs, and to bring economic and social benefits.

We must continue our efforts to ensure we are providing the best tourism experience possible to visitors at every single touch point.

Considering the global importance of tourism – almost 1.2 billion people travel abroad each year – it is no wonder that there is a day dedicated to tourism. This has exponentially grown from 25 million tourists in 1950 – you can see the global scale of tourism and how it has become a powerful economic sector – not just for Antigua and Barbuda.

Each year, World Tourism Day has a targeted theme, and the one for this year is promoting universal accessibility.
Accessible tourism for all is about the creation of environments that can cater to the needs of everyone. This is something Antigua and Barbuda has been focused on – we want to ensure, where possible that those with disabilities or young children, seniors and other individuals with special mobility access requirements are still able to fully appreciate everything Antigua and Barbuda has to offer.

When designing the new airport we were insistent on providing jet-bridges, escalators and elevators with braille control buttons in the terminal making it much easier for visually impaired passenger or those traveling with wheelchairs and other mobility issues. The process of boarding a plane from a wheelchair or other mobile aiding devices can be incredibly embarrassing and demeaning when being forced to do so through stairs. We felt that no one should feel this discomfort when traveling and insisted on these critical amenities that have improved mobility access for those passengers with special needs.

Additionally, many of our local properties have implemented ramps and other aides to help those with mobility issues, a clear indication that this issue is high on our agenda as we constantly seek to enhance our tourism facilities.

Across our twin islands, we are providing clear and reliable information, efficient transportation and public services in an effort to make Antigua and Barbuda a physical environment that is easy to navigate.

The Government is investing in improving our overall cruise product as well, with plans already in motion for developing St John’s Harbour to include extensions of the piers that will accommodate the largest vessels, along with the construction of an additional pier to enable up to six (6) ships to be berthed simultaneously. This improvement includes improving the wheelchair accessibility as well. The development of the quayside comes with the added benefits of new high-end shopping and facilities such as a cruise passenger terminal to re-position the destination to take advantage of home porting opportunities. We are actively pursuing opportunities to be a homeport with several European based cruise lines in an effort to diversify our cruise ship offering.

I am pleased to report that Pullmantur who will make 19 calls this season will be offering home porting services from Antigua and Barbuda for the first time.

Other major projects the Government is investing in includes the Fort James Development project that is aimed at leveraging the strength of one of our best beaches by including authentic local restaurants, boutiques, tours and attractions, an outdoor amphitheater as well as a museum detailing the unique history of this Fort.

All of our products, investments and enhancements ultimately add value and improve the customer experience. We must continue to improve our amenities in the area of fine dining, exciting tours and excursions, first class entertainment, and International standard of duty free shopping. These enhancements are all priority areas of consideration for the Government.

It is imperative that Antigua and Barbuda offers a memorable and unique visitor experience, not as a one-off outcome, but as an all the time phenomenon. I reiterate this message time and again, given the importance it has of earning repeat visitors as well as attracting new ones through the sharing of positive experiences via the social media.

While the Ministry of Tourism and the Tourism Authority has been diligently working to not only improve our on-island offerings and raise the visibility of Antigua and Barbuda around the world – it is up to each and every citizen of Antigua and Barbuda to ensure we truly are providing the best experience at every touch point. Even for those that might not be working directly in tourism.

One of the most wonderful things about the people of Antigua and Barbuda is our warmth and friendly nature. So I encourage everyone to share this warmth, humour and hospitality with everyone they interact with. It this way we all become true ambassadors for our beautiful country.

By 2019, it is estimated that the total number of stay over tourist arrivals by air will surpass 280,000 and the number of cruise arrivals will likely exceed 1,000,000 cruise tourists. We must, at a minimum, ensure that we meet these projected figures or even exceed them. We cannot become complacent on our recent success and expect this growth to continue organically. We need to be strategic, dynamic, proactive and adaptive to all opportunities for strengthening and growing our tourism industry.

This is more important than ever as competition for tourism dollars is fiercer than ever before. We are competing with the rest of the Caribbean and in particular with the newest ‘hot spots’ – Cuba and the Dominican Republic.

To put it in some context, while Antigua and Barbuda have been seeing an average 20% year over year growth from the US market – remarkable figures – this unfortunately pales in comparison to Cuba. The number of US tourists to Cuba has increased 61% in the first half of 2016 and these numbers are anticipated to grow, particularly once newly announced regular commercial airline service commences.

Another key issue combating the region, and Antigua and Barbuda, is the Zika virus. The region overall has seen the impact of cancelled group reservations and felt the effect of those choosing not to travel if they are pregnant or are in the child-bearing years of their life. This of course impacts the Romance tourism sector – again – a key segment of the Caribbean and Antigua and Barbuda’s tourism. Thankfully, due to the diligence and proactivity of the various health agencies and Government, Antigua and Barbuda have been able to minimize the spread of Zika thus far. This continues to be a top priority for the Government, but the overall perception of the spread of Zika in overseas market is that the Caribbean equals Zika. So our challenge is to educate our key markets, and target new tourism niches and opportunities to offset any decrease in the romance market.

Antigua and Barbuda has much to offer travelers and we must continually seek to discover and create ways to elevate our island in the mind of the travelling consumer and communicate that in such a way so as to distinguish us from amongst our Caribbean neighbors.
So on behalf of the Ministry and the Tourism Authority, I would like to acknowledge World Tourism Day.

Congratulations to everyone on the growth and success that we have achieved thus far. I know the hard work, dedication and passion that have gone in to achieving what we have so far, but we cannot become complacent.

We unfortunately cannot rest on our laurels.

I encourage everyone to share their ideas of how we can further strengthen our tourism industry. The growth and sustainability of our Tourism is a nation-wide endeavor. And as we allow the great individual and creative ideas to contend, we will see the collective growth and advancement of the country’s Tourism. As articulated in the words of our national anthem “Each endeavoring all Achieving.” We want everyone to become engaged and join us in ensuring a bright and wonderful future for our Tourism industry and by extension a bright and wonderful future for our beloved Antigua and Barbuda.