Post-Hurricane Irma: Antigua is open for tourism!
In September of this year, Hurricane Irma ripped through Barbuda, wreaking devastation across the island. Now, Antiguans are on a mission to fund the rebuild of Barbuda by broadcasting a key message across the world; Antigua is open for tourism!
Antigua and Barbuda, one sovereign state of two islands, was widely tipped by the media to be the first country hit by Hurricane Irma. Remarkably, the hurricane shifted north at the very last minute. The result: Barbuda felt the full force of the most powerful hurricane to ever hit the Atlantic, while Antigua was spared. One country split by two very different fates. Many assumed Antigua was also a victim of the hurricane because of their shared sovereignty, a misconception that is now badly damaging Antigua’s tourism trade. Tourists mistakenly cancelled their holidays and future bookings have dropped dramatically. In reality, only one hotel has closed.
Barbuda, on the other hand, lost almost everything instantly. The idyllic island of multi-coloured architecture, once frequented by the late Princess Diana, was reduced to a pile of rubble within days. Over 90% of the island’s buildings were hit, including homes, schools and the island’s only hospital. With their homes in tatters and another hurricane on the way, the 1,800 residents fled to neighbouring Antigua, where they were welcomed in an overwhelming display of community spirit.
Mercifully, hurricane José never hit. However, citizens are painfully aware that living in Antigua is only a temporary solution. They know they must now rebuild Barbuda from scratch. But with the expense of rebuilding houses alone likely to exceed £50m, it will be no mean feat. Donations from the international community have been anaemic compared to those received by other countries hit by Irma. Gaston Browne, prime minister of Antigua and Barbuda, described them as “minimal”, and has called on developed nations to recognise the severity of their plight. The situation is aggravated by the land tenure system on the island, which means residents don’t have home insurance pay-outs to mitigate their losses.
It has therefore fallen the on the people and government of Antigua and Barbuda to solve the crisis, which is why they are now embarking on an intense campaign to promote tourism in Antigua. This is what brought Jean-Marc Flambert, Antigua’s UK and Europe vice-president, sales and marketing, to WTM London, an international travel trade show.
“We are working with the trade to make sure they understand that yes, we have fantastic beaches, but also to make sure they know there is so much to see and do – so tell clients, ‘bring your wallet with you’,” said Flambert.
The tourism board is keen to emphasise that there is a lot more to Antigua than the world-famous beaches. The new campaign focuses on the region’s excellent sailing facilities, including an all-women sailing school, as well as the imminent completion of new spas and resorts. It also emphasises the abundance of water sports opportunities. Crucially, these attractions will bring life-changing revenue to people who desperately need it, and provide some hope that normality will one day be restored.
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