Tourism minister says 2017 was a good year, opposition disagrees


Even as the Minister of Tourism Charles “Max” Fernandez defends the government’s performance in the industry, the Opposition is reinforcing claims that Tourism has become “stagnant”.

The initial accusations came from Senior Minister within the Antigua Barbuda Labour Party (ABLP) during Parliament last week, Sir Lester Bird, who believes enough is not being done to advance the sector. However, Fernandez refuted the claims on Friday saying that the ministry continues to “aggressively promote and market the destination” to grow visitor arrivals.

Fernandez says the “success story” for tourism in 2017 was the cruise sector, which accounted for 801,787 passengers visiting the country on the 419 ships that docked in Antigua and Barbuda last year. He says this is a 25 per cent increase relative to the 313 ships that docked in the country in 2016.

The destruction left in the wake of the passages of Hurricanes Irma and Maria across the northern Caribbean forced several cruise liners to include Antigua on their list of berths.

He says cruise figures, combined with the 247,320 stay-over passengers in 2017 made it a “record year.” “That’s not stagnation,” he added while looking over at Bird directly.

However, the United Progressive Party (UPP) is agreeing with Bird, charging that there has been little done “to develop the tourism infrastructure and to adequately increase and improve the quality of the room stock” here.

The political leader of the UPP and former tourism minister, Harold Lovell says the numbers recorded in 2017 are not very different to the records of 2009.

He adds that room stock and airlift to the country might have increased by 20 percent in the last eight years, but “this has not translated into a significant increase in arrivals or market share.”

He said this means that the ABLP “has failed” to grow the industry and get “a fair return” on investments they have made.

Lovell says that “instead of becoming defensive”, Fernandez should first thoroughly assess the marketplace.

“He must become more familiar with the numbers and some of the nuances involved in assessing tourism performance.

For example, the 12% decline in stay over arrivals from the US during 2017 is a disturbing trend.

The US is our #1 market and double-digit decreases in arrivals from key states such as NY, NJ, which are well served with airlift, warrant a full investigation.

This is a finding that must be immediately reversed,” said Lovell.

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