For the first time in 15 months since the onslaught of the global recession the destination has seen a turnaround in stay-over visitor arrival figures which showed a 12% increase in March 2010 over the same period last year with 26,030 tourists visiting the destination during the month. Year-to-date stay-over arrivals are now at 71,238 which represents a 1.2% growth on last year’s figures. These first quarter results show an increase in stay-over arrivals in four of the destination's six major source markets: USA, Canada, Italy and Germany.
With the most significant increase in stay-over arrivals coming out of Canada and the USA, North America has emerged as the main source market for Antigua and Barbuda. This upward trend which was noted at the end of 2009 continues in the first quarter of 2010, showing three consecutive months of positive growth in stay-over visitor arrivals from both the USA and Canada.
Antigua and Barbuda Minister of Tourism, John Maginley is extremely pleased with the results and commented, "The destination's focus on increasing airlift from the USA at this time has proven to be right on target as we want to ensure that the cost of travel to the destination remains competitive. This will allow us to deliver more value while maintaining our competitive edge as we continue to address challenges of the global economy."
According to Colin C. James, CEO of the Antigua and Barbuda Tourism Authority (ABTA), "Despite the economic downturn and scarce resources, the country is now showing clear signs of growth ,and we have been able to position ourselves to capitalize on increased consumer confidence, which is expected to spur an increase in international travel by the end of 2010. "
Stay-over arrivals from the USA during the first quarter of 2010 stood at 23,982 up 8% on last year figures, while arrivals from Canada at 9,649 showed a huge 97% increase over the same period last year.
Tourism officials attribute this positive trend to a significant increase in airlift that the country has secured from key North American gateways. The increase in seat capacity was largely driven by aggressive marketing efforts of the Antigua & Barbuda Tourist offices in both New York and Toronto.
During the past two years, there has been an increase in seat capacity out of the US to the destination, with American Airlines' daily non-stop service from Miami, up to ten flights per week from Newark on Continental Airlines, and additional service on Delta Airlines via JFK and Atlanta. This winter season also saw the inauguration of two additional weekly Canjet charter flights from Toronto and Montreal.
Stay-over arrivals from Europe showed a mixed bag for 2009, and this trend continues for first quarter 2010. The German market achieved of 4.3% increase, and Italy an increase of 7.1 % on last year. Newly negotiated summer flights from both Germany and Italy will continue until November to ensure adequate seat capacity in these key markets. On the other hand, the UK market showed a decline in 2009, resulting in an overall decline of 15.4% for total European arrivals.
Tourism officials cite several significant factors that may have affected the fall-off in UK arrivals. Chief among these is the loss of direct airlift which affected the entire Caribbean when charter operators BM1, First Choice and XL withdrew from the market representing a 17% decline in seat capacity to Antigua & Barbuda. Additionally, the recent introduction of the Air Passenger Duty Tax APD last November and the comparatively slow recovery of the UK economy have negatively impacted arrivals from the UK.
Meanwhile, the ABTA CEO, has indicated: "Although we are delighted that for the first time since its inception the Tourism Authority is seeing the results of all the hard work beginning to pay off, we will keep focused to ensure that positive growth returns to all source markets. The Authority is considering a renewed strategy for the UK to ensure stabilization of this critical source market. This strategy will emphasize airline relations as a priority to restore seat capacity, and streamlined marketing and promotions to ensure maximum return on investment. We will consult with key stakeholders to see how we can reenergize our efforts in the UK market"
The current growth in stay-over arrivals shows that the destination has clearly turned the corner from 2009, where the total stay-over arrivals stood at 234,410 a decline of 11%. During the same period the highest level of cruise ship arrivals ever to Antigua and Barbuda was recorded with 712,000 visitors, an increase of 23% over 2008 cruise arrivals.