Antigua and Barbuda has put out a desperate plea to the UK trade to continue selling the country following Hurricane Irma.
Antigua missed the eye of the category 5 hurricane and did not sustain structual damage. All hotels, bar one, are due to reopen by this Thursday.
In contrast, sister island Barbuda was devastated by the hurricane. The population of 1,600 have all been evacuated and the island’s buildings need to be rebuilt. It holds 2% of the country’s hotel stock and is a popular day trip from neighbouring Antigua.
The country, which is made up of both islands, is heavily reliant on tourism, accounting for 60% of its gross domestic product.
The country’s minister for tourism, economic development, investment and energy Asot Michael said: “On behalf of the Government and people of Antigua and Barbuda, I would like to thank the trade for their professionalism over the past few weeks when working to ensure the safety of all customers on our islands during the passage of Hurricane Irma.
“Over the past week, we have worked closely with the private sector to ensure that all our visitors continue to experience a first class product when they arrive as Antigua saw very little impact from the storm.
“Tourism is vital for our islands so we appeal to you to continue to sell Antigua to support our efforts in the re-build of our sister island of Barbuda.”
Jean Marc Flambert, vice president of the Antigua and Barbuda Tourism Authority, warned of serious consequences for the destination if the trade does not continue to support it.
Flambert said: “The key message to the trade is that people should not feel guilty about coming to Antigua at this time because it has not been affected.
“When there was the Asian tsunami in 2004, Brits did not want to go to Asia because they thought they would be in the way. It is in fact the opposite.
“We need tourism, we need the livelihoods of the people to continue. If the travel industry doesn’t continue to sell the Caribbean the damage that could be done from an economic point of view could be quite serious.”
Brits account for the second-largest incoming visitor market to Antigua and Barbuda, with 77,000 people a year. The US is the largest incoming market with 100,000 visitors.
But in terms of revenue, Brits are as important as US visitors as they stay for 11 nights on average compared with the average US stay of five nights.
Flambert admitted the recovery of Barbuda would take time in terms of being able to welcome back tourists, adding: “There will be a time in the not too distant future that we will be able to do day trips to Barbuda again. Right now the focus is on the immediate needs of fixing peoples’ homes and the government is going to lead the recovery efforts.”
No cost has yet been put on the amount needed for rebuilding on the island but donations can be made via the government’s website Antigua-barbuda.com.
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