Any time a country or region imposes any sort of visa stipulation - even if it’s a waiver - the travel industry sighs a collective groan, knowing the obstacles and headaches to come.
TORONTO — Everyone loves a good comeback story, and the island of Anguilla’s is a good one.
Devastated by Hurricane Irma last September, the tiny-island-that-could is now spreading word that not only is it open for business, it’s back better than ever.
This message is a central focus of a new campaign called ‘Beyond Extraordinary’, launched by the Anguilla Tourist Board (ATB) this week during a North American tour that also marks its long-awaited return to Toronto following a 10-year absence. According to Donna Banks, Chairperson of the ATB, Canada is Anguilla’s second largest market behind the U.S., a fact that has prompted the ATB to redirect a portion of its 2019 budget to Canadian initiatives.
“We have every confidence in this market and its ability to deliver on what we need on Anguilla, and we also believe that we can deliver to your clients what they’re looking for,” she said. “So I think it will be a perfect marriage in 2019, and there should be more visibility of Anguilla in the Canadian market.”
This renewed partnership with Canada will be boosted by increased airlift into Princess Juliana International Airport (SMX) in St. Maarten, Anguilla’s main gateway. The return of service from several major markets, particularly Toronto and Montreal, along with increased frequency from Atlanta, New York and Miami, all bodes well this winter, said Cardigan Connor, Anguilla’s Parliamentary Secretary, Tourism.
But the island has also committed to expanding access through its own international airport (Clayton J. Lloyd International Airport) by working with airlift consultants and private sector partners, as well as expanding the San Juan gateway as a viable alternative to St. Maarten.
On working with its partners at Seabourn and Tradewind Aviation to make San Juan a reality, Connor said: “Right now this is a limited option for Canada, but by building relationships we open the door for further options as the market here grows.”
Connor, who stressed that the evening was not about dwelling on events of the past, focused on latest island developments instead, namely a new facility at Blowing Point ferry terminal to process visitors that’s set to open the week of Dec. 17.
Upgrades have also been made to Clayton J. Lloyd airport, including the installation of new runway lights and a new GPS system that allowed for night operations to resume back in September.
“First impressions are lasting impressions,” Connor said of these point-of-entry enhancements.
As for accommodations, Anguilla has welcomed luxury brand Relais & Châteaux to the island with the opening of Quintessence Hotel, as well as celebrated the reopening of the legendary Belmond Cap Juluca earlier this week. Four-star properties like the Four Seasons Resort and Residences, Cuisinart Golf Resort & Spa, Malliouhana, an Auberge Resort, and Zemi Beach House Hotel & Spa have all “turned adversity to their advantage” and seized the opportunity to make long-awaited upgrades and renovations post-hurricane.
Aside from its facilities and accommodation offerings, it’s the three S’s – Sun, Sand and Sea – that visitors notice first about the island, which is why a special committee has been formed to advise on the implementation of an island-wide ban of the use of plastics and Styrofoam by March 2019. Calling it a “critical step towards the preservation of our natural assets”, Connor said that Anguilla’s beaches will “always be the foundation of our tourism product.”
But he also noted that in order to cater to today’s modern traveller, Anguilla must “offer more” than just sun, sand and sea and provide visitors with additional reasons to choose the destination.
As such, the ATB has identified five experimental pillars designed to guide its global marketing and promotional activities: Romance, Adventure, Events & Culture, Foodies, and Health & Wellness. These pillars, said Connor, add depth and dimension to Anguilla’s product offering, and allow the destination to create new packages that target various audiences.
With new niche offerings, it is the ATB’s hope that Anguilla will become known not only as a luxury destination, but one that can accommodate all budgets.
“We’re a playground for the rich, famous and not-so rich and famous,” joked Banks. “This is our main message moving forward, that we’re not just about high-end properties anymore. We have something for everyone.”