Antigua and Barbuda Tourism officials led by The Honourable Charles “Max” Fernandez the country’s Minister of Tourism, Investment, Civil Aviation and Transportation wrapped up an intense week of negotiations, with back-to-back meetings with over twenty-five airline partners at the just concluded Routes Americas annual conference in Chicago.
Routes Americas is the hemisphere’s largest gathering of Airlines, Airports and Tourism Boards and is the essential event for all aviation-based companies who wish to conduct business to, from and within the region. This event offered Antigua and Barbuda the opportunity to meet with some of the most influential aviation professionals from across the Americas region, which is a critical part of its airlift strategy.
The forum also provided valuable industry insights and trends to help the destination in the development of its recovery strategy, while allowing for discussions on new market opportunities face-to-face with the people who decide where the region's aircraft fly.
The Antigua and Barbuda Tourism Authority’s (ABTA) strong marketing efforts in recent years, have been a catalyst in creating the strong demand that has seen the destination record annual visitor arrivals from its two largest source markets the USA and UK in 2022. This upward trajectory in visitor arrivals has continued into the first two months of 2023.
Minister Charles Fernandez indicated that, “Without exception all the existing airlines executives who were engaged reported excellent load factors for Antigua. They were keenly interested in the destination and the opportunities that it presented for even stronger revenue yields with the addition of new hotel rooms. The steady growth rates in air arrivals in recent months coupled with the positive GDP forecasts as a result of the Government’s economic policies, has made Antigua and Barbuda stand out within the region.
“We are now seen as one of the more attractive destinations with the most potential for new route development”, reported the country’s Tourism Minister whose portfolio now includes Civil Aviation and transportation which are all critical aspects of the tourism product.
CEO of the Antigua and Barbuda Tourism Authority (ABTA) Colin C. James said, “the new airlines who do not yet serve the destination or the region, were all excited to initiate business contacts and we will do everything to ensure that we remain firmly fixed on their radar”.
“The Caribbean has seen a much stronger and quicker recovery compared to other areas of the globe post pandemic. As such, we see airlines now looking seriously to expand service to the region with the delivery of new aircraft, and in tandem with the alleviation of the crew and pilot shortages as they emerge from the pandemic, The ABTA will also be working closely with our major hotel partners to have them use their leverage and influence with the airlines in a joint effort to increase our airlift”, remarked James.
The anticipated improved airlift into Antigua and Barbuda for the upcoming summer and winter season all demonstrate a renewed confidence in the destination from both its long-standing and potential new airline partners. Announcements are expected within the next few months of at least 3 new routes that will be opened for the upcoming winter season.
The country’s delegation delivered compelling individual presentations at each meeting to educate its existing airline partners, as well as newly targeted airlines of the opportunities that are now available for growth. These discussions highlighted the new additional hotel rooms, the positive attributes of the destination such as its safety, stability, and strong forecasted economic growth. The recent Caribbean Journal ranking of Sir V.C. Bird International airport, being voted The Best Airport in the Caribbean with its modern state of the art facilities, and capacity to handle up to 2 million passengers per year was another plus for the destination in its lobbying efforts for increased flights.
The exciting airline growth opportunities linked to the country’s recent foray into cruise homeporting was well received particularly by several of the European airlines in attendance. These carriers welcomed the potential opportunity to expand their existing service to the destination to cater to this growing segment. Some 9,000 passengers are expected to homeport from Antigua by the end of 2023.
In addition to meetings with existing airlines such as BA, Delta, United, American and JetBlue to explore the options for new gateways, several new airlines were courted. These included US carriers such as Sun Country, Southwest, and Spirit. The team also used the opportunity to conduct several media interview between meetings with Airline officials from other European, Canadian, and regional carriers such as Norse, Porter, Cayman Airways, Bahamas Air, TUI, and Aer Lingus. Special emphasis was placed on securing increased lift from within the region and from our main source markets in time for Antigua and Barbuda’s carnival one of the region’s premier summer festivals.
The new carriers that were not familiar with The Sir V. C. Bird International Airport were particularly impressed with the host of facilities available at the country’s international airport gateway.
The annual Routes Airline Conference now in its 15th year has in recent times provided Antigua and Barbuda with a unique opportunity to grow the existing air services and routes from its main visitor source markets. Attendance at the conference has also helped the Tourism Authority to strategically, develop and grow the relationships with our key airline partners in the US, Europe, and the Caribbean.