TORONTO — The tropical twin islands of Antigua and Barbuda are best known as a luxury, A-list Caribbean destination — but the tourism authority is looking to boost the islands’ profile beyond the likes of Cameron Diaz, Eric Clapton and Paul McCartney to attract a wider range of visitors.
Tourism executive Marie Walker was recently hired to do just that. As the new vice-president of sales and marketing in North America for the Antigua & Barbuda Tourism Authority (ABTA), her plan is to transform the twin islands to a buzz destination.
“We need to lift our awareness,” she told media at a press event last week. “We want everyone to talk about Antigua and Barbuda with bragging rights.”
Lifting awareness includes building out an integrated marketing communications unit and “aggressively” using social media to get the word out. It also includes the launch of the Antigua and Barbuda Insider Program (ABIP) — a free app for qualifying travel agents. The app is currently available for the iOS platform and will be released in the coming weeks for the Android platform.
“It is really going to be a significantly important tool for the travel industry because it will allow the travel agent community to have answers to their questions 24×7,” said Walker. The app will list all resorts, attractions and transportation companies on the islands. “We’ve essentially created a 24-hour sales operation with this app.”
It’s expected that a new resort in the works will generate a lot of press – thanks to actor Robert De Niro, who was appointed as special economic envoy after signing a memorandum of agreement last November for a US$250 million hotel investment in Barbuda. De Niro and Australian businessman James Packer will help renovate and expand a former five-star luxury resort that closed several years ago.
“Suffice it to say, it’s Robert De Niro, and with that we recognize there’s going to be a significant amount of press,” said Walker. “We’re hoping … that we will be able to use the launch of his resort as a kick-off for our new positioning of the destination, so we are in communications with his team and we are looking for a spring launch of our new creative.”
There are also efforts underway to regenerate the islands’ port facilities, heritage sites, retail outlets and transportation facilities to boost the cruise tourism sector.
Walker also hopes to turn the twin islands into a wedding destination – including Vegas-style quickie weddings right at the airport – since visitors don’t require residency to get married. (Most destinations require 24 to 72 hours residency.)
The twin islands will also improve the visitor experience with a new terminal at V C Bird International Airport, slated to open on April 28. The new terminal will include 26 check-in counters and 20 immigration desks, along with extensive retail space, WiFi access and two VIP lounges – essentially doubling the airport’s current capacity.
To date, Air Canada offers five flights weekly during the winter season and two during the summer season; WestJet offers two flights weekly during the winter season and one during the summer season.