ST. JOHN’S, Antigua and Barbuda (September 23, 2020) — The “Destination Performance/Occupancy and Airlift” report just released by the Antigua Barbuda Hotels & Tourism Association (ABHTA) assesses the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the country’s tourism sector. The numbers reflect the hardship being felt by the membership and their employees with passenger arrivals in August 2020 down 73% and occupancies at just 9.90% based on total room nights available compared to August 2019. This comes after strong occupancy figures in January and February 2020 had signaled a turnaround from the effects of hurricanes and Sargassum for Antigua and Barbuda, after six years of intensive worker training and capital expenditures by the association’s members.
Borders were closed and a State of Emergency declared on 28 March 2020 forcing resorts and tour operators, to close their doors and layoff their staff. Based on data from the ABHTA hotel members employment has been terminated for 1,500 out of their 5,500 employees. Additional tourism workers remain at risk given the ongoing challenges in the sector and membership has already paid severance in excess of EC$18M.
Looking ahead to 2021, Occupancy Projections reveal a struggle to break 50% through April 2021 based on a data sample of eight ABHTA member properties. The reduction in airlift, disrupted booking patterns, breakeven points for resorts and business and a cap on guest numbers to adhere to new health and safety standards are just a few contributing factors.
Antigua and Barbuda reopened its borders on June 1, 2020 and to date 14 hotels accounting for 874 rooms and 28% of the room stock, have begun welcoming back guests. An additional 16 hotels are expected to reopen in October through December, totaling 1,497 rooms representing 48% of the room inventory. According to the report the average room occupancy was 37.5% in August 2020 based on reporting from the 12 properties reopened at the time.
Based on airlift arrivals to the destination projections indicate a 43% decline in seats at the start of the 2021 Winter season. There were an average 7,692 airline seats weekly in 2019 compared to an estimated 4,361 weekly seats October through December 2020. Antigua and Barbuda saw passenger arrivals of 4,002 in July and 4,761 in August 2020, a decline of 83% and 72% respectively over 2019.
“We do not see an indication of an overall turnaround this year or even next given the many variables affecting the sector from sustained consumer confidence and curve flattening to vaccines,” says Vernon A. Jeffers, Snr, Chairman of the ABHTA. “But for those intrepid travelers ready for a change of scenery the new normal for travel seems to slowly be taking hold. The once daunting protocol of pre-testing has become a familiar requirement and available airlift less of an obstacle, while our Antigua and Barbuda health and cleanliness certification program lets guests know they can place their trust in our member accommodations, restaurants, tours and retail shops.”
According to Andy Thesen, Owner of the all-inclusive Hermitage Bay luxury resort, new bookings have seen a positive uptick since July and the improvement continues. “Our nadir in terms of new bookings was in July when our four-week moving average of room nights booked was down almost 70% on last year. That metric is now less than 30% down and seems to be improving throughout September.”
While stating accurate projections are difficult even in the short term, the ABHTA’s occupancy forecast indicates that travelers ready to book now won’t visit until the first quarter of next year with the winter season occupancy levels expected to reach 50% at the highest, and growth to reach 2019 rates will take two to three years.