Providenciales – For the first time in its history eight Ministers of Tourism, including two Deputy Prime Ministers, descended on Beaches Resorts in Turks and Caicos from August 28th to the 31st, for the annual convention of the American Society of Travel Advisors (ASTA).
Among the delegates were Minister of Tourism and Foreign Affairs for Antigua and Barbuda Charles Fernandez, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Tourism and Investment from Saint Lucia Dr. Ernest Hilaire, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Tourism, Investment and Aviation for the Bahamas Chester Cooper, the host Minister from the Turks and Caicos Josephine Connelly, Minister of Tourism and Transportation for Barbados Ian Gooding Edghill, Minister of Tourism and Economics for Curacao Ruisandro Cijntje, and Minister of Tourism and Economic Development for Grenada Lennox John Andrews. Jamaica’s Minister of Tourism Edmund Bartlett joined via video conferencing.
Antigua and Barbuda’s Tourism Minister Charles Fernandez told the hundreds of travel advisors in attendance that there is no place that can offer an experience quite like his home destination, “I think that the most important aspect of Antigua and Barbuda is the friendliness of our people, the welcoming nature of our people, because if you go somewhere and you don’t feel welcome no matter how great and beautiful the place is, you are not going to enjoy it. From our taxi operator all the way up to the managers of our properties, everyone you come into contact with lets you understand that you are really welcome, and you are part of the tapestry of Antigua and Barbuda.”
Minister Fernandez also boasted that Antigua has the lowest crime rate in the region, saying he was grateful to be able to tell them a bit more about the island firsthand, “Then you really put your heart into what you are selling because you know what you are selling. So I think this (convention) has been a really tremendous effort of Sandals and ASTA to actually bring all of these travel industry advisors to the Caribbean to understand and feel and realise what it is we have in the Caribbean.”
Chief Executive Officer of ASTA Zane Kerby, expressed his confidence in the future of Antigua’s hospitality sector and by extension the entire region, and pointed out that the Caribbean is now the second most important outbound market for the United States, “The Caribbean is the second largest outbound market from the United States and for the last two years it’s been the top outbound market for overseas travelers from the United States, Western Europe has taken its crown back, but this is still a place where there is enormous demand. In fact I’ll go on record and say 2023 has seen the highest record travel of Americans to the Caribbean in US history.”
Kerby said this just underlines the importance of having so many tourism ministers at the meeting to the future development and growth of the region’s tourism sector, “Travel Advisors are demand creators for places all across the Caribbean, that’s why it was important for them to hear directly from the Ministers of Tourism from islands all across the Caribbean. The fact that they’re here (the Ministers) and that they are talking to US-based travel advisors about all the great features, benefits, new hotel builds and new features that are coming to their islands is a testament to the relationship and the importance and the strength of it.”
Stressing on the critical role travel advisors play in helping to direct visitors to the region, Kerby went on to declare that the Caribbean has no better partner than Sandals Resorts, “Sandals is the only Fortune 500 brand to come out of the Caribbean, they are a major player, not only as a brand but a major employer in the Caribbean. The brand is extremely strong in the United States, it has very positive associations and it’s no wonder why so many of our travel advisors joined us here this week.’
Minister Fernandez also lauded the role Sandals plays in regional tourism, “Let’s face it, Sandals and Beaches are clearly the brand of the Caribbean. Hats off to them in terms of the standards they bring to bear, it’s very important. People want to come to the destination but at the same time they want to know that the product is a good product, and I think Sandals and Beaches are both excellent brands. I think that any island that has a Sandal or a Beaches automatically gets recognised as a destination of choice in the Caribbean, because Sandals and Beaches have become such a trusted name in the tourism industry that if you are able to put one of those brands in your destination, then you have arrived.”
ASTA’S 2024 convention will take place at Sandals Royal Curacao in August next year, where the association is hoping to build on the strides made this year.