HONORABLE ASOT MICHAEL Minister of Tourism, Economic Development, Investment and Energy of Antigua and Barbuda FCCA TOWN HALL MEETING Multi- Purpose Center November 17, 2015 5:30pm Michele Paige: President of Florida Caribbean Cruise Association, Mr. Federico Gonzalez-Denton: Associate Vice President, Government Relations LAC- Royal Caribbean Cruise Ltd, Mr. Leon Sutcliffe: Director Ports of Call & Government Relations- Carnival Cruise Line, Mr. Russell Daya: Executive Director, Global Port Operations & Development, Itinerary Planning Disney Cruise Lines, Chairman of the Antigua and Barbuda Tourism Authority, Mr. Rohan Hector, CEO of the Antigua and Barbuda Tourism Authority: Mr. Colin James, Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Tourism: Ms. Paula Frederick-Hunte, Chairman of the Antigua and Barbuda Cruise Association: Mr. Nathan Dundas, Tourism Consultant Ms. Shirlene Nibbs, Other Tourism officers of the Ministry of Tourism, Esteemed Members of the Media, Ladies and Gentlemen,
I would like to begin by warmly welcoming you all today on behalf of the Government of Antigua and Barbuda. Thank you all for taking the time from your busy schedule to be here this afternoon.
A very special welcome is extended to Ms. Michele Paige President of the FCCA and her team who have demonstrated the vital importance of Antigua and Barbuda as a top Caribbean cruise destination partner, by travelling down to be with us for this very important town hall meeting.
The aim of this afternoon's dialogue is to address issues related to our critical cruise tourism business, which is playing a pivotal role in not just our tourism but to the overall success of our country.
This town hall meeting is an integral forum for us to discuss the cruise industry in Antigua and Barbuda – and how we might foster and develop this industry and our partnerships across it. 2015 has been an important year for Antigua and Barbuda and this administration's commitment to both attracting visits by the cruise industry, as well as providing a better on-island experience for visitors.
The Cruise sector is now firmly on the Government's front burner as demonstrated in the dredging work and the advanced plans for upgrading the piers and landside facilities.
From the beginning, it has been our goal that we will return our destination to its 'marquee' position as a premier Caribbean cruise port.
With an additional $78 million dollars in investment dedicated to just this, significant work has already being completed and is in the pipeline to upgrade our cruise facilities – from dredging the port to completing taxi parking areas and the establishment of a Transportation hub to repairs to roads and restructuring sidewalks throughout lower St Johns, to renovations to Heritage Quay and the Heritage hotel to expansions of the Immigration and Customs Arrival/Departure Booth.
In the area of customer service we have given support to the Taxi Driver with uniforms and appropriate duty free concessions. The Government has also arranged for FCCA specific training for taxi drivers, which will be implemented shortly.
We have gone further to ensure that new standards and legislative regulations will be introduced across the board to ensure efficiency in all cruise related services, taxi, tours, excursions, beach vending, etc. The #1 issue is the safety and security of our guests, and the their experience while ashore. The police will be supported with tourism sensitivity training and equipment such as segways etc. to improve the security for all who use the cruise facilities.
Our goal is to totally transform and modernize St. John's port and harbor to ensure we're providing the most desirable product possible to visitors and residents. A total transformation of the port facilities and downtown St. John's will ensure that our other main gateway that caters to the cruise tourism industry is not left behind. This development will include world-class casinos, cafes and restaurants, hotels, condominiums, and high-end designer shops.
While we have begun these projects, it will take time to realize the successful completion of all of them. Saying this, a first and important step we have completed was the full dredging of St. John's port. We prioritized this so as to ensure we would be fully prepared in the most essential manner for a busy – and successful – cruise season. This has already borne fruit for us.
Positive news for the cruise industry in Antigua is that we have seen an incredible increase of cruise ship calls for the 2014/2015 season by approximately 35% in comparison to the previous season. We have welcomed many a new inaugural vessel coming in to St John's – Princess Regal and Mein Schiff 3, and Norwegian Spirit as the three latest along with P&O Cruise lines Britannia which arrived in port just today.
I am pleased to report that several more inaugural calls are scheduled by the end of November and for this winter season.
This is a positive sign and a validation that the outreach and hard work that we have all been doing is making a difference. Thus far, the cruise ship calls in 2016 will increase to 408, up 14% from the 343 expected this year. These are very positive figures.
Unfortunately, a troubling sign is that the recent economic impact study shows that spending in Antigua and Barbuda has gone down despite the increase in arrivals. It is imperative that we analyse why this might be happening and more importantly channel our collective efforts to reverse this.
We hope that today's meetings, with many of the leaders and operational stakeholders in the cruise industry in attendance, might help us address the challenges we still face. I am confident that by working together we will find a way to successfully maximize cruise passenger, cruise line and cruise line employee spending, while making the changes necessary to best enhance the arrival an onshore experience for passengers. This more than anything will ultimately secure recommendations of our country to other would be cruisers and also lead to return, stay-over visits from the visiting cruise passengers.
So for our partners and stakeholders here today, please know how dedicated we are to today's meetings. Myself, my office and the collective tourism leadership team are excited and energized to be here and look forward to working together to ensure that Antigua truly realizes our administration's vision of being the best marquee port of call in the Caribbean.
With some of the best and most innovative minds in the industry here and participating, I am confident we'll be seeing positive returns for the cruise industry and the people of Antigua and Barbuda for 2016. So, welcome, and let us begin!
For several weeks, Caribbean News Nowhas been aware that a smear campaign in the British press was being planned against Sir Ronald Sanders, Antigua and Barbuda's nominee for the post of Commonwealth secretary-general at elections on Friday at the Commonwealth Summit in Malta.
Sure enough, the malicious publication by the UK's Daily Telegraphnewspaper of a story repeating unsubstantiated hearsay, rumour and conjecture, timed for two days before the election, is clearly designed to affect Sir Ronald's chances. He was a clear front-runner in the contest, which included British baroness and sitting member of the House of Lords, Patricia Scotland.
Contrast such hearsay, rumour and conjecture with some actual facts reported by the same Telegraphnewspaper in 2009:
Baroness Scotland, then UK attorney general, was placed under investigation by Britain's Home Office after she admitted employing an illegal immigrant as her housekeeper.
She was then prosecuted under a law that she helped steer through parliament and which clearly states that “unknowingly” employing illegal workers is no defence in itself. She could face a fine of up to £10,000 if convicted, the Telegraph pointed out.
The Telegraphlater reported that Scotland was “fined £5,000 over illegal immigrant housekeeper”.
When Caribbean News Nowpreviously referred to her “conviction”, we were immediately attacked by her VERY expensive lawyers in London, who claimed that we incorrectly portrayed “Baroness Scotland's unknowing employment of an illegal immigrant, and the mischaracterisation of the administrative penalty for the technical breach of not taking a photocopy of the fraudulent passport, as a 'conviction'.”
However, if the Telegraphcan report in 2009 that, “if convicted”, she faced a fine of up to £10,000 and she was in the event fined £5,000, does that not lead to the inescapable conclusion that she was in fact “convicted”?
Further, Baroness Scotland had a previous conviction for careless driving, the Daily Telegraphlater disclosed. To have a “previous conviction” one must of necessity have a subsequent conviction, namely that which resulted in the fine of £5,000 for employing an illegal immigrant housekeeper.
We responded to Scotland's lawyers as follows:
Please explain and clarify the legal process in Britain, where you assert that being fined for a breach of the law is not a “conviction”. What should it be characterised as?
Further, have you demanded that the Criminal Law and Justice Weekly remove its reference to Baroness Scotland's "recent criminal conviction" as being “highly defamatory”? Have you demanded that the BBC and The Independentremove their references to Baroness Scotland "breaking the law" or required the Telegraphto remove its reference to her "previous conviction" in the context of what you assert as her “technical breach” of the law?
Have you required John Quigley, a partner at William Sturges & Co. to remove his critique of Baroness Scotland's claim of a "technical breach" of the law as being meaningless and having no validity in law? Have you demanded that the Daily Mailremove its story headlined “BARONESS SHAMELESS” about the same hitherto unknown legal concept of a “technical breach” of the law?
If you have not made such demands, we can only assume that you and by extension Baroness Scotland are in reality seeking to intimidate and terrorise us as a small Caribbean regional publication since our recent references to these still extant statements now become inconvenient to Baroness Scotland's campaign for the position of Commonwealth secretary general and not because they were or are defamatory when published by better known publications or at all.
No response was ever received.
In contrast to Baroness Scotland's actual criminal history, which for the benefit of her lawyers means “relating to unlawful acts or their punishment”, Sir Ronald Sanders has never been convicted, charged or even questioned in relation to any alleged criminal activity.
Nevertheless, a discredited report written in 2009 and rejected outright by the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) in Antigua is now being peddled by the British media with exquisite and malicious timing on the eve of the Commonwealth election.
In furtherance of the Scotland smear campaign against Sanders, even though the Telegraphwas compelled to reveal that Sir Ronald had been completely exonerated at the outset by the competent legal authorities in Antigua, the Telegraph“journalist” nevertheless published sections of the rejected and discredited report.
In fact, the DPP wrote to the Antigua police and other government authorities saying that allegations made against Sir Ronald were “seriously defective” and “disclose no offence”. The Antigua Police Commissioner has also written to Sir Ronald's lawyers saying that a notice saying he was “a person of interest” should never have happened, adding: “I hereby confirm that the Royal Police Force of Antigua and Barbuda had no interest in interviewing Sir Ronald Sanders and that there are no current or pending investigations that involve him in any way.”
Sanders' lawyers told the Telegraph“it is a matter of profound concern” that the story is being published at a time when Sir Ronald is standing for election for the position of Commonwealth secretary-general.
The prime minister of Antigua and Barbuda, Gaston Browne, said that he had been made aware that the smear campaign was being planned. He emphasized that the newspaper story is part of a deliberate and malicious smear campaign by persons with a vested interest in the election.
In conclusion, on the one hand, we have Sir Ronald Sanders, a genuine Caribbean candidate for the post of Commonwealth secretary general, who has never been convicted, charged or even questioned in relation to any alleged criminal activity.
On the other hand, we have a pretend Caribbean candidate in the shape of Baroness Scotland, who even the Royal Commonwealth Society has to admit is “from the United Kingdom”, and who:
• Has at least one criminal conviction;
• Attempted to suppress freedom of expression in the region she claims to represent by bullying and intimidating us as a small Caribbean regional publication while ignoring the exact same references in mainstream British media; and
• Engaged in a thoroughly reprehensible and despicable smear campaign against one of her fellow candidates based on false and discredited hearsay, rumour and conjecture.
This, in our opinion, speaks volumes as to her real character rather than the public persona she would like to present.
Will the Commonwealth heads of government really elect such a person as its next leader?
VALLETTA, Malta – 26th November 2015......Prime Minister the Hon. Gaston Browne has reaffirmed his government's support for Sir Ronald Sanders for the post of Commonwealth Secretary General amidst a smear campaign by individuals believed to have vested interest in advancing their personal agenda.
“Despite the recent malicious and deliberate attacks on Sir Ronald in a UK based newspaper, Sir Ronald is still the candidate of choice for the post of Secretary General and Antigua and Barbuda is firmly behind our candidate. The attacks show the desperate lengths that persons are prepared to go to achieve their goals,” said Prime Minister Browne who is in Malta for the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting.
He said that the fact that the article in the UK newspaper alleging wrong doing by Sir Ronald in a matter that never made it to court and which was rubbished by the country's Director of Public Prosecutions, is released on the eve of the most anticipated election for the organization, is proof that it was designed to affect Sir Ronald's chances of succeeding.
“We maintain that the Lindquist report is nothing else but a partisan political witch-hunt and is riddled with hearsay, rumour and conjecture. Sir Ronald's track record within the Commonwealth sets him apart from the others and Antigua and Barbuda is pleased to present him for service to the Commonwealth as its next Secretary General,” Prime Minister Browne added.
While the article in the UK based newspaper reported the allegations which were being promulgated by the Opposition United Progressive Party and its affiliates, it admitted that Sir Ronald remains the front runner for the post of Commonwealth Secretary General. The said article is understood to have been peddled around the British media circuit before being printed.
“We will redouble our efforts to ensure that this smear campaign does not succeed and that Sir Ronald Sanders becomes the next Secretary General of the Commonwealth,” concluded Prime Minister Browne.
HONORABLE ASOT MICHAEL MINISTER OF TOURISM, ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT, INVESTMENT & ENERGY REMARKS FOR KNICKERBOCKER COCKTAIL EVENT NOVEMBER 4TH 2015 KNCKERBOCKER HOTEL, NEW YORK, NY 6:00 – 9:00 p.m.
H.E. Ambassador Aubrey Webson, Mr. Dennis Corrigan, VP of Sales & Revenue Management at JetBlue Airways, Other Jet Blue and Antigua and Barbuda Tourism Officials, Antigua and Barbuda Tourism and Travel Partners, Distinguished guests, Members of the Media, Ladies and Gentlemen; good evening,
It is truly an honor to be able to address such a great audience. Thank you for joining us to mark an incredibly important new beginning: a new relationship with our esteemed partners, JetBlue and a new non-stop flight to Antigua and Barbuda.
We truly wanted a venue befitting of how important this new partnership is, and knew this wonderful rooftop in the heart of New York – Times Square – was the perfect venue.
You can feel the energy of this city that mimics the enthusiasm and energy Antigua and Barbuda has for this new service between the East Coast and our twin island nation. New York and the tri-state area is truly our heart, as it is our most important market in North America. Not only do we have the largest diaspora community here, but throughout the years, we've found New York audiences to be the greatest fit to everything we have to offer visitors: paradise via a short 4 hour flight.
If we seem incredibly effusive; it is because we are. New airlift is integral to the success of our tourism industry. If you can't get to Antigua and Barbuda – how are you and other possible visitors going to discover why we're the best destination in the Caribbean?
Just being able to announce there are three new nonstop flights a week from New York to Antigua alone would be reason alone to celebrate. What makes this such a significant announcement is that we are here, partnering with our new friends at JetBlue Airways who are leading the aviation industry. From on-board service to the overall customer experience – JetBlue is truly the most innovative airline in the industry. Forcing legacy carriers to follow their lead.
With JetBlue we know that flying with them is an incentive for passengers and visitors, and we are confident this new service will be a success. In fact the inaugural flight tomorrow morning was sold out 3 weeks in advance! In case you think this might be due to the fact that it is an inaugural flight, many flights during our peak winter season are already nearly sold out. Proof positive that together: JetBlue and Antigua and Barbuda is a winning combination!
As the Minister for Tourism, Economic Development Investment and Energy, I am giving my word to everyone here this evening that Antigua and Barbuda will not only meet but also exceed our responsibilities for ensuring the success of this new connection. While JetBlue will be providing seamless, smooth and enjoyable service to Antigua and Barbuda – everyone on the twin island nation will be ensuring visitors receive the best experience possible from the point they touch down to departure.
Arriving passengers will experience our new VC Bird International Terminal – the newest and most modern airport in the Caribbean. This service will continue across the portfolio of properties from leading brands in the industry such as Sandals – who are here this evening – to boutique hotels some of which offer a chic green eco-friendly experience.
Dining options range from the popular Nelson's Dockyard Seafood Friday's recently featured in USA Today in the top 5 Caribbean “Fish Frys” to fine dining at master restaurants.
All this of course is, in addition to our pristine beaches – we have 365 of them. One for each day of the year – and beautiful waters that are perfect for any water sport from yachting to deep sea fishing to scuba diving and snorkeling.
The idiom there is something for everyone is truly befitting of what we have to offer in Antigua and Barbuda. What I believe truly separates us is the genuine warmth, hospitality and friendliness of our people. It is why we have some of the highest rates of repeat visitors in the region.
So tonight we celebrate being able to share this warmth and hospitality with even more people through this new JetBlue service from New York! We're confident that working together this partnership will be a success.
I hope that everyone enjoys the evening, the unrivaled view of the heart of New York, and ask that you share the story of Antigua and Barbuda and JetBlue's new flight with all of your colleagues, friends and respective audiences.
HONORABLE ASOT MICHAEL Minister of Tourism, Economic Development, Investment and Energy of Antigua and Barbuda REMARKS REGAL PRINCESS CREW Nevis Street Pier Thursday October 29, 2015 10:00 a.m.
I would like to start by very warmly welcoming Princess Cruises' MS Regal Princess and all her wonderful crew and guests to Antigua on behalf of the Government and people of Antigua and Barbuda.
It is a real honor and pleasure to receive the MS Regal Princess as one of the world's largest cruise ships for the very first time to St. John's Port. The people of Antigua and Barbuda are welcoming you with open arms and warm hearts.
We would like to thank you for the confidence you have placed in us as a destination and we promise that your over 3,000 guests will have an unforgettable experience.
Your arrival is incredibly important for Antigua's economy, so please know we will be taking the utmost care of your passengers as well as your vessel. Succinctly put: tourism is imperative to the success of Antigua and Barbuda and your guests are important part of the equation, and we know it is our duty to provide you and your guests a stay that is above and beyond the caliber of what you expect.
As part of our promise to improve services on island, our government has delivered on a major promise to tourism partners by signing a $200 million agreement to modernize our St. John's port and harbor to ensure we're providing the most desirable product possible to visitors and residents. We aim to become the port-of-call of choice for those travelling to the Caribbean from around the world.
A total transformation of the port facilities and downtown St. John's will ensure that our main gateway the cruise tourism industry is the ultimate leader in the Caribbean.
This development will include world-class casinos, cafes and restaurants, hotels, condominiums, and high-end designer shops. It will be difficult to match the Regal Princess, but we will try. We have already begun the process, having completed the full dredging of St. John's harbor.
So facilities and plans are well in place to offer a first class regal service not just our guests, but your crew as well.
All of this is to say, we hope you enjoy your time with us today in Antigua, and that you will have the opportunity to appreciate our beauty, culture and warmth and that this is only the first of many calls of this spectacular vessel to our shores!