HonourableAsot Michael Minister of Tourism, Economic Development & Energy Government of Antigua and Barbuda WestJet Executives Remarks
First of all, I would like to extend my sincere gratitude to all of youDave, Cindy and Michael here with us and John and Chris by phone. I greatly appreciate your making time to meet particularly as Dave, Cindy and Michael have come from Calgary especially for this meeting.
Canada and Antigua and Barbuda have enjoyed a long and mutually rewarding relationship for very many years.
Tens of thousands of Canadians have visited Antigua over that period, and many of them have bought holiday homes or become permanent residents.
We have been pleased to provide a respite for Canadians from the freezing winters you experience here.
On that score, I register my great admiration of all Canadians. You are indeed a strong people to experience freezing winters and still be such warm-hearted people.
In recent year there has been considerable growth in the number of passengers carried by your sister Canadian Airline - Air Canada- into Antigua. Although I am not sure how 'sisterly' you see the relationship.
But, we have been a good market for Air Canada whohave seen an increase of over 20% in their traffic into Antigua.
I also acknowledge that WestJet Airlines/Vacations has seen growth in its passenger traffic to Antigua, and we are delighted to have provided that opportunity for your business.
We believe that the time has come to review and explore the possibility of a closer and more mutually profitable relationship between us.
That's why I asked for this meeting.
I wanted you to know what we are doing to make Antigua and Barbuda an even more desirable destination for Canadians, and so expand your business in to our country.
Tourism, as you know, is a key pillar of our economy and it has great potential for further expansion without ruining the environmental quality of our twin-islands.
Our exquisite beaches, as many of you know, are our premier attraction and, thankfully, with more than 365 of them, we can offer one for each day of the year. There is also space for increasing and upgrading the number and quality of attractions on both islands in order to enhance the experience of visitors. This includes developing our historic and cultural sites as well as establishing more restaurants and night time entertainment. In this connection, although my government has been in office for only two months, we have embarked upon a number of initiatives to increase the number of hotel rooms; to establish new facilities; and to increase the marketing of our islands in many countries including Canada.
Hundreds of millions of dollars are being invested by my Government in enlarging capacity, ensuring a more modern infrastructure, and improving the visitor experience.
Several new hotels will be built, enlarging the number of available rooms and beds; and several existing properties will be refurbished and placed back into the stream of commerce.
The Royal Antiguan will be sold shortly, and an additional hotel constructed on the property. The Hodges Bay Club will also be resuscitated. The Half Moon Bay Hotel has attracted new interests with a great likelihood of it being resurrected.
The St. John's Harbour and the lands encasing the inland sea will be transformed. A boardwalk, shops, restaurants, and a hotel are to be constructed on the seafront making the area far more picturesque and economically vibrant.
At Nelson's Dockyard, my Government intends to create a New Economic Development Zone.
That newly-legislated Zone will encourage very low-density winter housing, not unlike the successful yacht and boat basin, witnessed by members of my Government, around the island of Sardinia, close to the Italian mainland.
We have signed a memorandum of understanding with China's Yida International Investment Antigua for a US$2 Billion resort development that includes the construction of five-star hotels, a golf course, 1,300 residential units, shopping facilities, a modern conference center and a casino.
We will also early in the new-year break ground for a 400 room “Beaches” Resort as part of our expansion with the Sandals Resorts International group.
Sandals already does considerable marketing in Canada and its sales and reservations machinery will immediately offer the new resort on Antigua as soon as it is opened.
These new facilities will create new business for West Jet, since with more rooms on Antigua and more demand by Canadians who will be targets of increased marketing, passengers will turn to airlines like yours to get to Antigua.
In anticipation of more rooms and more people desirous of coming into Antigua by plane, we are pleased that our new Airport terminal is nearing its opening.
It will offer airlines and their passengers much improved facilities with the emphasis on efficiency and comfort.
We are determined to continuously improve and upgrade the tourism infrastructure and facilities to make your service to your passengers better.
We are confident that with all the projects we now have in place, and more of them at the negotiating stage, the number of visitors to Antigua and Barbuda will increase steadily, including from Canada. I sought this meeting with you to give you some understanding of how we are expanding and improving the tourism product in Antigua and Barbuda.
But, I also want tobegin a dialogue with you, as key representatives of WestJetto work out how, together, we can deepen and strengthen our relationship for our mutual benefit.
I do appreciate your time and I welcome your thoughts and ideas.
You will find me an avid listener, keen to implement plans and not to dither and delay.