Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Antigua Tourism Week

This week is the Antigua and Barbuda Tourism Week and to start off with they had a symposium last night at the Chinese built Multi-Purpose Center with a variety of speakers including the Minister of Tourism, Harold Lovell who gave a opening speech on the status of the tourism industry. There were also a speech by Adel Blair who is the acting chief within the Environment Division (which by the way falls under Harold Lovell's ministry). Her speech was on Sustainable Development which was kind of strange to hear after Harold spoke about all the development that would be coming to Antigua over the next few years including some that are due to happen in extremely delicate ecological areas. She highlighted the need for change within the government on it's stance on sand mining, the building of jetties and groynes, the cutting of mangroves, the dumping of waste and so on. Many of the things that i have written in this blog over the past two years were spoken about by her as well and i have to tell you that i found it brave of her. People like Adele must get so angry when she sees the UPP government ignoring intelligent advice from the Ministry of Environment. The ALP were just as bad but the strange thing about this one is that they say they are going to adhere to "sustainable development" practices and do the complete opposite.
Another excellent speaker was Hilary Modeste who is a highly educated and impressive speaker from St. Lucia who is on the island currently working for Jolly Beach Hotel as their main marketing man. He has an incredible resume and I think that he has much to offer the people of Antigua and Barbuda with his life long experience in tourism development at the highest level. Jolly Beach is lucky to have him on board. I just found this little piece on him at a recent travel market in the UK. It's mostly about Jolly Beach and doesn't show how impressive a speaker he is, but at least you know who i am speaking about.

His speech was about the need to match marketing with product value so that a consistent message about the brand can be achieved. IT was almost a lecture, but he did give some great info and spoke about some problems we have here in Antigua and how they compare to similar situations in St. Lucia where he was director of tourism and also the person behind their Jazz Festival.
There were also speakers on finance and crime.
One thing that stood out to me as a person in the activities sector (or complimentary services as some called it) was the fact that three of the speakers there including Harold Lovell spoke about the need for us in Antigua to have more "attractions". Lovell said that St. Martin had double the number of attractions that we had here. The panelists asked if we didn't have any entrepreneurs here and asked why people were not more imaginative. They also spoke about coming up with regulations that would ensure that some there was some consistency in the running of tours and other attractions. I listened and found it hard not to get frustrated. The Antigua and Barbuda Excursions Alliance which i was a member of, tried for over a year to get our concerns recognized by the Ministry of Tourism. So many of the things that they speak about on these Tourism meetings deal with things we tried to raise with the Ministry. We got absolutely nowhere and after being pushed around and around with people within the ministry who had been told to look after us we got frustrated and gave up trying to work as a group. When the discussion side of the symposium came up I had to get something off my chest. I said that in fact we have as many "attractions" as St. Martin did. I wanted to say that according to our members we had too many excursions but didn't have the time. The market here on the island is saturated with things to do and see and many of them never get a chance for other reasons which we tried to speak with the Ministry about. The running and marketing of excursions and "attractions" in Antigua is an extremely complex situation that is not easy to understand. At the moment the average Antiguan is at a competitive disadvantage than to someone who arrives from abroad to start an excursion company. There are many loop holes and barriers that Antiguan companies face in this sector which foreign companies don't. It was frustrating to hear the uninformed Minister preach about what we should do after not hearing our problems. We would love to diversify and add more excursions and attractions but Antiguans would stand a better chance if they were coming from the UK to do so. I think i showed my frustration which was a mistake, but hopefully Mr. Lovell and others will understand that Antiguan excursion operators and Antiguans who would like to be excursion operators are facing difficult times and want to be able to be listened to as a group. We are still waiting to be helped on any of our core issues. This was the original letter given to Mr. Lovell when the UPP won the election back in 2004 (we never got a meeting with him):

Antigua Barbuda Excursions Alliance

Mr. Harold E. Lovell
The Ministry of Tourism
Antigua and Barbuda

Dear Sir:

On behalf of the newly formed Antigua Barbuda Excursions Alliance, we, the elected Board of representatives, would like to take this opportunity to congratulate you on your recent appointment as Minister of Tourism.
We are confident that you and your team will create positive inroads into the development of the Tourism Product of Antigua and Barbuda, and we all feel that this new government will make massive improvements to the mechanics of the Product with you at the helm. It is with this in mind that we as excursion operators came together recently and started this alliance. The ABEA is a non profit company set up to give our members a louder unified voice in an effort to make our part of the Tourism Product shine in a way that is has never done. We wish to have a meeting with you at your earliest convenience.
On behalf of our members, we would like to discus the following common issues with you:
1. Fair representation of our tours to the tourists in this country.
2. Protection for indigenous operators.
3. Duty Free concessions and Tax structure.
4. Environmental protection of our key sites.
5. Member privilege.
6. Transportation
7. Rules and Regulations for operators.

Once again we are delighted that you are at the helm, and we are sure that we can all exceed the expectations of our visitors and stakeholders. Enclosed you will find a list of our members. We look forward to meeting with you.
Eli Fuller, Nick Cheremeteff, Eustace Armstrong, Conrad Labarrie, Laurance Gonsalves

Antigua Barbuda Excursions Alliance