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!