The Antigua tourist board hosted 24 agents on its 365 Mega Fam in May. Karl Cushing went along for the ride
Ever wondered how to rustle up a winning fam trip? First, get Travel Weekly to find you the ingredients (24 agents), then tip them on to a 108-square-mile island with 365 beaches, season with liberal dashes of sun and rum, and simmer for four nights.
That was the recipe the Antigua and Barbuda Tourism Authority and its partners Elite Island Resorts and British Airways used on their inaugural 365 Mega Fam in May.
As tourism attache Maria Blackman says, it was a memorable and valuable experience for all concerned.
“We were so delighted to have this opportunity to host such an enthusiastic group of travel agents on our first mega-fam,” she said.
“The agents truly embraced the island experience from the moment we set foot in Antigua.”
It’s never been a difficult sell, but it’s soon to get even easier, with more flight options becoming available and a new £50 million airport terminal set to open next April. British Airways is adding an extra Boeing 777 to its Gatwick fleet, which will result in one extra flight a week to Antigua next summer, taking the total to six.
Thomas Cook is launching a seasonal charter service from Manchester, running from December 19 until April 2014. Flights, which offer economy-only seats, are every Thursday, direct to Antigua and onwards to Barbados.
And if you need an excuse to clinch a sale, tell clients who love cricket but don’t fancy flying Down Under for the next Ashes series that they can indulge their love of the sound of leather on willow in Antigua – the England team will play One Day Internationals in Antigua on February 28, March 2 and March 5 next year.
When Stuart Clark from Kenwood Travel hijacked the mic of the welcoming singer at VC Bird Airport and treated us to an impromptu Bob Marley karaoke, he set the scene for five frenetic days of fun activities and Antiguan hospitality with some education thrown in.
Our first port of call was Elite’s Verandah Resort & Spa, our home for two nights – the first of which got off to a flyer with a hosted dinner at Nicole’s Restaurant melting into a late night at the hotel bar.
Next up would be two nights at sister property St James’s Club on Mamora Bay where we enjoyed hosted dinners at Dockside Restaurant and Piccolo Mondo, nicely lubricated with cocktails at Piccolo’s and Jacaranda. Some scheduled free time on the final day allowed us to check out the resort’s facilities.
First up on the activity front was a spot of mini golf at Verandah. With prizes including a spa treatment on offer it was a hotly contested affair, drawing some seriously creative and cunning stroke play. While Flight Centre’s David Grande emerged victorious the ensuing cocktails and tasty fare at Buccaneer’s were a worthy consolation for the rest of us.
Considering Antigua’s self-styled status as the sailing capital of the Caribbean, one day was fittingly given over to some messing around on the water on an island circumnavigation catamaran cruise with Tropical Adventures.
The impressive bombing and cannonballing from the back of the boat ensured it wasn’t only the well-stocked bar and tasty BBQ lunch that took a hit, before being rounded off with some red-hot soca dancing action.
Carys Woolley, from Resort Marketing International’s sales and marketing team, said: “The catamaran trip gave a great view of the island and was one of my highlights, along with the last night at the Verandah, with everyone dancing with the singer at the main bar.”
Another highlight was the trip to the Sunday night ‘jump up’ at Shirley Heights, arriving for the tail end of sunset as the sky dimmed over the twinkling lights of Nelson’s Dockyard beyond and the steel band cranked out such Caribbean staples as, er, Gloria Gaynor’s I Will Survive.
The Verandah Resort & Spa won popularity points for its practical layout, not least the central entertainment area with the bulk of the food and beverage outlets spilling off the main pool area.
Other elements singled out for praise by the agents include its verdant 30-acre grounds, the two-bedroom villas added in late 2011 and the inherent flexibility, including the choice of two beaches and five wedding gazebos. All who stayed in the Waterfront Suites commented on the lovely views.
The agents were also quick to note some of the selling points of the St James’s Club, where many rooms such as the spacious Royal Suite I stayed in open onto the beach, and the natural breeziness of the Atlantic side offers some welcome respite from the heat.
If your clients have a hankering for jungly rustic charm then consider Elite’s Galley Bay Resort & Spa. Set amid a riot of green, its entry-level rooms comprise a small central plunge pool flanked by two thatched rondellas housing the bathroom and bedroom. They certainly divided opinion – not surprising given the agents’ varied client bases – but the beachfront Premier rooms proved popular.
Of the other sites visited, Sandals Grande Antigua drew a mixed response. While some praised elements such as the Mediterranean Village’s pool area, others said rooms were small and decor a little on the gaudy side.
At the other end of the budget, the mellow Carlisle Bay Resort pleased with its artfully minimalist stylings, high-spec suites and stately approach flanked by koi carp-filled ponds. “This is what most people’s idea of a Caribbean paradise is,” voiced one, although not all were convinced, in part due to its lofty rates.
Blue Waters Resort & Spa impressed with the whirlwind renovation it had received last September. In addition to facilities such as its Palm restaurant having received tasteful makeovers, a large amount of new landscaping and decking work was undertaken. The massive suites and penthouses were also popular, as was the wedding gazebo on Blue Waters point.
Last up, Curtain Bluff Resort “screams Caribbean”, assured our guide. Traditionally choked with repeating US visitors, a new sales agent has arrived to entice UK travellers with incentives such as reduced kids’ rates, free days and packages designed around its tennis club or incorporating complimentary scuba dives. Add in the enviable wine cellar and manicured grounds and it’s worth a look for monied clients.
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