As the cruise industry continues its strong recovery, the Chief Executive Officer, (CEO) of the Antigua and Barbuda Tourism Authority, (ABTA) Mr. Colin James led a delegation comprising stakeholders from the Ministry of Tourism, The Antigua and Barbuda Port Authority, and Executive members of the St Johns Taxi Association to the Florida-Caribbean Cruise Association (FCCA) 28th Annual Conference, held in Santa Domingo, Dominican Republic, October 11th -14th. The team comprised Mr. St. Clair Soleyn, Senior Project Manager, and Ms. Simone Richards, Policy Specialist, both at the Ministry of Tourism & Investment, and Mr. Darwin Telemaque, CEO, Antigua and Barbuda Port Authority, among others.
The delegation participated in high-level meetings with major players in the cruise tourism industry. Mr. James commented, “Cruise tourism is a fast-growing component of our tourism industry. Since we’re now experiencing a strong recovery after being at a standstill due to the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, the staging of the conference is timely.” Mr. James continued, “The upcoming winter season promises to be record-breaking for cruise arrivals. Some 182,120 passengers from 108 calls are expected during the last quarter of this year with January 2023 projected to be our busiest month for the season with 79 calls and 135,810 passengers to St. Johns.”
The team held meetings with executives representing over 10 cruise lines as well as executives of the FCCA. The Ministry of Tourism and Investment, with the ABTA, was also able to facilitate the attendance of three members of the St, Johns Taxi Association, President, Mr. Patrick Bennet, Mr. Leroy Baptiste, and Mr. Sean Beazer for meetings with the leadership of the FCCA. The meetings were frank and productive, incorporating a presentation from the Taxi Association that resulted in the FCCA entertaining the possibility of an increase in transportation charges that has been static for the past 17 years.
As the dynamics of travel platforms continue to evolve, discussions varied by cruise companies. Hundreds of Antiguans and Barbudans continue to benefit from the career opportunities that Royal Caribbean and MSC cruise lines offer. Simultaneously, the delegation was pleased with the announcement that Virgin Voyages’, whose deployment to the region this year was delayed due to logistical challenges will be calling on Antigua in 2023.
Cruise lines are now mandated to reduce their carbon footprint, a regulation with which they must comply. This will affect the ports they deploy in their itineraries. The delegation shared the news that Antigua has now commenced installation of 6 Liquified Natural Gas, (LNG) generators which will be deployed in April 2023. In that regard, Princess Cruise Lines advised they will also be launching their Sun Princess, which carries 4,300 passengers, its first LNG vessel, to call on St. Johns in 2023. With the stringent U.S. policies concerning emissions, Antigua anticipates that more USA-based ships will make the island a port of call.
Simultaneously, a high-level delegation of 6 executives from Carnival, UK P&O Cruise lines will visit Antigua in mid-November for meetings with the Honorable Prime Minister, Mr. Gaston Browne and with the Honorable Minister of Tourism & Investment, Mr. Charles ‘Max’ Fernandez on the commitment to commence homeporting their new vessel “Ariva” in St. Johns as of January 2023. This meeting will be followed by technical meetings with the respective government agencies. Additionally with a huge percent of the overall cruise traffic coming from the United States, homeporting from other lines in Antigua is also now under serious consideration.
The Antigua delegation shared with cruise line executives that after successful negotiations, St. Johns will be the only port in the Eastern Caribbean offering electronic clearance for arriving vessels. By submitting the ship’s manifests to Antigua’s port regulatory agencies, the evening before arrival in St. Johns, their passengers will clear immigration and customs in advance so that once berthed, disembarkation may immediately begin.
CEO James also spoke optimistically of an increase in arrivals for summer 2023. He shared that summer 2022, was a challenge for the entire region with only 4 cruise ship calls reported. However, some 18 calls are already projected for the period May to September 2023.
This year’s conference had over 1,500 delegates in attendance, including Prime Ministers and Ministers responsible for Tourism, CEOs of tourism agencies, Directors of Tourism, Destination Representatives, Tour Companies, Marketing, and Promotional Companies, and executives from various major cruise lines.