Sunday, December 27, 2009
A1Marine in Jolly Harbour has spend the past few weeks helping us get the Dolphin ready for tours and charters. Dolphin is Adventure Antigua's new sailing catamaran. Today we are taking her out on a test cruise to see how the modifications work. Tours on the new Catamaran will start up the first week of January 2010. We will have several half day trips and several full day snorkeling cruises as well. The boat will spend most of the week based in Dian Bay on the Verandah dock and will take passengers from The Grand Pineapple Beach Resort and Spa as well as the Verandah Resort and Spa. More info and photos to come soon!
Friday, December 18, 2009
On Thu, Dec 17, 2009 at 10:03 PM, !@!#@#@$$#$%$ wrote:
My name is"""""""""""""and my husband and I will be travelling to Antigua from the $%^%$#%$%$. I have been reading your blog and I am very saddened by what it seems is happening to local tour companies there. My husband and I usually go on trips to places where we can try in some small way to support local businesses. We usually stay in smaller places, lodges and eco-resorts. We would like to book with your company precisely because it is smaller and seems to hire more local people. We are sorry we will not be there for one of the classic sailing tours, but have been getting information from Nell about dates and the other tours. (She is very helpful and answers e-mail very quickly.) We are going paddling on the 23rd and thus the 22nd and 24th are days available for us. I was going to book the Xtreme Tour, but I wish to ask about the trip to Stingray City. I am, however, a bit uncomfortable going to a place that seems to fence in rays? I am not wishing to be rude or presumptuous. Might you be able to tell me if they do any preservation work or are affiliated with any such group? The other option for us is the Eco-Tour, but we were reading on Tripadvisor that there is a one-two hour trip once on the boat to pick up people from other hotels. We will already be driving for nearly one hour in and back each way so we wonder if this review was accurate? Thanks for the specifics. It will help us choose tomorrow if you are able to e-mail back.
There are still many people who travel and look for companies like yours. There is a niche for smaller companies with better service and a focus on local development, I think. The information on your blog would be helpful on other sites such as antigua-nice, I think, where I also looked for info, or on Tripadvisor, if you could somehow manage this. I really wish you success in mobilizing locals and politians to act. Ultimately they would be helping, supporting and protecting Antiguans, I think.
@#@#@!####$$!@ in Toronto
Hi there! Thanks so much for taking the time to email. Two very good questions, but the answers to them may still make it hard for you to decide. Here goes (Xtreme Tour): Stingray City originally used a fence to keep the rays in for several reasons. See here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/antiguan/237351819/in/photostream/
The main one was that it takes a few months for rays to be conditioned A.K.A "tamed" into feeding. They are just like Pavlov's dogs. If they even hear the boat engine they come around expecting food. The guys there fed these enclosed fish four or five times a day until they just were conditioned into expecting it. While this was going on there were several alleged attempts to sabotage the business by another operator close by. The cruise ship excursion industry (which i am happy not to be directly involved in up to now) is even worse than the hotel excursion industry. Anyway, they kept the fence there and ended up putting a security shack there. Each night one of the park's employees would sit in the shack keeping watch. Check the image here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/antiguan/237351703/ They then made a policy of only hiring people from the nearest village where all the fishermen in the area come from and everyone kept an eye out for it. Since then they have removed the shack and have also removed the fence. In the jellyfish season (summer time) moon jellyfish can now come into the area. That was another cool thing about the fence, but moon's are not that bad anyway. For now there is a swim line like you see at hotels which is just a line with floats on it to keep the swimmers contained within a perimeter. The rays are free to swim and go wherever they want, but always return at feeding time to get an easy meal.
A few other things to remember is that southern stingrays are fish which are not endangered or threatened at all unlike tuna for example (many of which will probably be extinct within the next 20 years). However in Antigua, people still eat rays and many are caught accidentally as by catch in nets. You can read more about that here in one of my blogs on netting and another on the North East Marine Management Area which is where many rays are killed (and also where stingray city is). Stingray City does quite a bit of community work including environmental cleanups other things like that. They are always willing to help me in any campaign or activist work that I suggest. They are also members of the Environmental Awareness Group. Anyway, if you need more info on any of this you can email me again.
OK. Info on Eco Tour concerns: The Eco Tour starts in Jolly Harbour at 9:15 am with the first pickup. You tour out through the huge marina and cruise out into Mosquito cove passing Pearns Point. Here you can usually see Montserrat and it's very active volcano as well as Redonda in the west. On clear days you will also see Nevis and on extra clear days you can see St. Kitts and Guadeloupe too. Anyway, you then cruise past the beautiful Five Islands Harbour, Pinchin Bay and then you see the unusual and very interesting Hawksbill Rock just outside the hotel with the same name. Of course one of their four beaches is the famous Nude Beach where you can find Captain JD and Captain Tony getting all over tans each week. (hahahahaha) We occasionally collect there guests here as well as some from Galley Bay. This is at about 9:25 am. Then we cruise out past the next point and past Galley Bay. We get a good view of the beautiful Deep Bay with it's old wreck (Andes 1905) just as we pass Georgio Armani's houses on the point there. From here we either go into St. Johns or directly to Dickenson Bay depending on our reservations. Sometimes we have direct Internet bookings from cruise ship passengers and will go into Deep Water Harbour to collect them. On those days we also occasionally collect guests from the Grand Pineapple Beach Hotel and from the St. James Club too. To get there we have to pass the interesting Fort Barrington which is now part of the national parks of Antigua and Barbuda. We get into St. Johns at 9:50 and are leave at 10 sharp. On the way out of St. Johns we stop and give a little history of the old Fort James which also served to protect the harbour. Great photos here! We pass Runaway Bay and get to Dickenson Bay at 10:15 where we collect the remainder of our guests (including Pineapple, Verandah and St. James Club guests if we didn't stop in St. Johns.) From here we depart in five to ten minutes and cruise up past Sisters island and then Blue Waters Hotel and the Boons Estate, up the coast towards Prickly Pear Island and the start of the North Sound (and marine management area). We pass the beautiful Jabbawock Beach and the Kitesurfing school on our way up to Shoal Point and then up to Long Island (Jumby Bay). We are now in the very protected North Sound. It's here that we anchor up serve drinks and speak about the history of the area and then about the ecology of Long Island and especially about the Jumby Bay Turtle Project. We arrive there at 11 am. If you come to St. Johns then you will have been on the boat for an hour and if you went to Dickenson you will have been on the boat for just over 30 minutes. All of it is excellent sight seeing and i would recommend paying the extra cab fare and going to Jolly Harbour for the start. This way you get an awesome tour of the west coast. Some people just want to snorkel and couldn't care less about history, ecology, or anything other than snorkeling. I understand that and understand why the trip up to the islands may be not that interesting. We have seen whales, dolphins, rays, endangered birds and all sorts of cool stuff along the way to the North Sound. I am eager to see what comes up every time i leave Jolly Harbour. The journey up the coast is beautiful to me, but as you can see from Trip Advisor, its not for everyone. By the way, after drinks and the history/ecology talks we then cruise past the fascinating Maiden ISland which R. Alan Stanford chase my eco tour from all those years ago. Here you can see his artificial barrier reef. Then it's over to the mangrove habitat of Guiana Island. Loads of interesting stuff to see and hear about here. We spend so much time there as kids fishing. Such a cool spot. After that we cruise up in between the little islands like Lobster, Exchange, Rabbit, Hells Gate and all the rest of them passing nesting birds (depending on the time of year) and wonderful picturesque vistas. This is one of my favorite places on earth and so beautiful! Check the map here: http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3434/3291375692_d5d9d9ac47_o.jpg We are usually passing through these islands on our way to Great Bird Island at about noon. We arrive at 12:15 or so at Bird, have some more drinks and then get off the boat for the nature walk up to the top of the island. It's high enough so that you can see the entire area. Some of the best "holiday style" photos are taken there. I think Antiguanice is putting some up that a guest shot on the eco tour later today. Since your question was about the start of the tour, i will leave it there. You know about the rest of the tour and all the caving, snorkeling and other cool stuff done on eco tour. Hope you had time to read all of this. I think i am going to put it on my blog for today. Thanks for the inspiration!
Thursday, December 17, 2009
Rob Breadner and co. have recently started an online media company and have featured several of my eco type blogs. Check it out here: http://www.365antigua.com/green/NEMMA.php
Tonight there is also an interesting video being shown at the Antigua Museum about Aids awareness. Contact the museum for more info.
Tonight there is also an interesting video being shown at the Antigua Museum about Aids awareness. Contact the museum for more info.
Wednesday, December 16, 2009
Two big changes:
1- For nearly eight years I have been asking the different government representatives that have come and gone for some help regulating certain things about the way excursions are presented and the way they are sold. Minister after minister heard me and others in the excursion business speaking about many things we felt were unfair, but nothing was ever done. Specifically here on this blog we will speak about excursion companies being directly involved with the sales of tours. It's important to first point out that the average sales commission for tours like ours is 20%. That deposit that you pay your rep or tour desk isn't a deposit for the excursion company. It's a commission for the person making the phone call. In some cases we are paying 30% commission and I know others who are paying over 50% for some of their tours. Over the past ten years a few of the largest excursion companies have moved sideways into tour handling a.k.a. "ground handling" and tour sales. It is alleged that Tropical Adventures which is one of the biggest excursion companies has shareholders who are also shareholders of Sun Tours which handles all of the Virgin Holiday repping on the island. Many people complain that Virgin reps here in all the hotels predominantly push Tropical Adventures tours which include The Excellence trips, the Jeep Safari tours, The Tiami or Mystic sailing catamaran, kayaking and other tours. They are the biggest and most diverse excursion company and it was a very smart business move for them to also allign themselves with the biggest handler of tourists coming into our country. I don't know how many Virgin Holidays guests come off those 747 jets but you see their reps with their nice red and pink uniforms in all the hotels. Whenever our boats are slow Tropicals seem to stay full. The excursion companies complain about what they feel in an unfair advantage. Virgin does sell Adventure Antigua, but I know many tour companies that say they get no sales from them. It's like Donald Trump says though.... "It's nothing personal. It's just business"! In order to survive, Wadadli Cats was forced to do a similar thing. They formed a company called NX Tours to run tour desks in the hotels. Many hotels that didn't want to deal with staffing and organizing the sales of tours farmed out their tour desks to NX. At one time they had tour desks all over the island from St. James Club on the Atlantic side to Jolly Beach on the Caribbean. When a guest came to the tour desk and said that they would like to go snorkeling, you can imagine what tour would be the first one presented. This kind of business is common all over the world and locally several other companies followed suit. Recently Bo Tours purchased a catamaran and went from being a ground handling company to also being an excursion company. The next big move was that hotels starting buying their own boats and doing their own tours.
What does all this mean? Well it has many impilications. The first thing it means is that people who come to Antigua will be given a very slanted version of the available activites. The other thing which I have always been afraid of is that the smaller guys get marginalized. Which tour desk or ground handling company is going to tell their guests about a little glass bottom boat tour that costs US $40 and pays a US $5 dollar commission? It's terrible but the reality of presenting tours and selling tours to guests in these islands has changed for the worse in my opinion. Some of these ground handling companies now are coming up with a list of crazy policies which make it even harder for small companies. At the end of the day Adventure Antigua has had to make changes to their policy. My personal position remains the same, but my company's policy has been forced to change. The old addage of "if you can't beat them, then you join them" seems to fit here. A company called Antigua Adventures has been formed to pretty much do the same thing as Bo Tours, NX Tours, Sun Tours and the rest of them. Antigua Adventures is slowly moving into the market by running a tour desk first at Verandah Hotel. The Verandah Resort and Spa is a carefully designed hotel sitting in Dian Bay. For more info on this very cool resort you can check their website here.
For now Antigua Adventures is learning how the tour desk has been operating before making any huge changes. One of the biggest problems on that side of the island has always been the huge additional cost of cab fare. We are working on several plans to make this less of a burden on the guests. The other big problem we have noticed has been that there were so many tours being sold a the resort that people had a hard time deciding on what tour was best. We have cut some tours that the Management of the hotel felt were unsafe and we will also be trying to give the guests the best value for money that is possible while making sure that they are offered the best of the tours available. We are not just pushing our tours, but for a change guests at this hotel may start to hear about Adventure Antigua.
2- Adventure Antigua has always felt that we were going to be different from all the other tour companies by offering tours to small groups. Our biggest boat eventually got to be the 52 footer that we run the eco tour. It was built in the USA to carry 49 passengers, but we designed the layout to keep it around 25 people. Even at 25 guests we had many compaints from the old Eco Tour supporters. Seen here our old eco tour (done on our second eco boat which is now in the Indian Ocean) took a maximum of 10 guests.
Before that boat we had one that took only 4 guests. That's how we started out!! Lunch in the old days was pretty cool as seen here at Bird Island, but not that great when it rained as you can imagine.
Now of course, we have the Eco Tour powercat here:
and the Xtreme boat here:
and the Classic Yacht here:
What we have found is that there still so many people out there who like the big catamaran tours and this month we have decided to further diversify our business in order to meet that demand. It's not exactly our forte, but after all the lessons we have learnt in what is nearly ten years of operation, we feel that we will be able to offer an excellent sailing catamaran tour. Our newest boat "Dolphin" is currently in Jolly Harbour undergoing some rennovations and should be ready to do it's first Adventure Antigua catamaran cruise before the new year. Plenty photos and info to come! For now here is a little one that kinda gives you an idea of what it will look like:
Monday, December 14, 2009
In the spirit of Christmas, we will be showing our appreciation to individuals and groups within our community involved in charitable and meaningful service along with distributing gifts to children in need.
We are counting on your generosity in the form of donations of all kinds –time and participation, as well as gifts for the underprivileged, or a monetary contribution.
We especially encourage families with children to participate in this golden opportunity for them to understand and appreciate the true meaning of gift-giving at Christmas time
Please contact us by phone (see below for our contact information) BEFORE TUESDAY to pledge your contributions to the “giving” component of our event.
Robin Margetson: 771-3748
Michael John: 725 9595
Josiane Salmon Whyte: 724 3855
Gilda Alexander: 726-6688
Event: SOUNDS OF CHRISTMAS 2009
"A Night of Song, Lights and Giving "
Start Time: Thursday, December 17 at 7:00pm
End Time: Thursday, December 17 at 11:00pm
Where: The Holy Family Cathedral grounds next to the Mount St. John hospital.
I will have more info on this tomorrow, but for now think about taking some time out of your schedule to come help less fortunate people out. I have a few friends who are starting a mentoring program out. It sounds pretty cool.
Saturday, December 12, 2009
Recently Sandals decided to farm out their tour desks in all of their resorts to a Company called Island Routes. This new company is spending huge amounts of money to market their tours online and within their hotels. They are telling all of the tour companies that we will see a huge jump in our sales within Sandals owned resorts as well as outside. They are selling online to anyone. There has been quite a bit of talk about the implications of this among tour companies. Sandals can be very aggressive with their business practices. The new company has already started making big changes within the hotels across the Caribbean. One of their policy changes may be pushing Adventure Antigua out as well. We have until December 31st to make changes to the way we do business if we want to remain being sold at the Sandals Grand Resort and Spa or at the all inclusive Grand Pineapple Beach Hotel. For nine weeks we have been feverishly working on making these changes but they are not completed yet.
We are currently trying to work with them on a solution, and Adam Stewart, CEO of Sandals and top boss at Island Routes, has given us assurances that he want's us all to work together.
If we don't make the adjustments in time (dec 31st) and do get kicked out of their tour desk this will be a surprise to me. We will still keep collecting guests from the beach as we have always done. Even if you are staying at Sandals or Grand Pineapple Beach you will be able to book what was once their top selling tours if you go directly to our site:
We have a new Eco Tour and a new Xtreme Round the island video coming soon to youtube the websites, twitter and the blogs. I am sure people will post them on http://www.antiguaforums.com/ and tripadvisor too. Isn't the internet a savior for small business?! With or without Island Routes we will continue to provide the best trips to people coming to Antigua as well as those coming to the Sandals chain of resorts.
Thursday, December 10, 2009
Wednesday, December 09, 2009
This article points out what we have been saying here in Antigua for quite some time. The best way to save a coral reef and the fishery it supports is to ban fishing for a while. It's that simple...
I just hope that my good friend Brother B and his team at the Fisheries Ministry can get the wheels turning on the NEMMA so that some of the fish we have in there can be protected. So many species are now extinct from our waters. It's very sad, but can be helped with some hard core enforced protection.
Read the article about a live Caribbean reef here: The Cuban Reef Project
I took the photo above recently at the Tobago Keys National Park where so many fish that i used to see as a kid swam around freely. There were even conchs at the snorkeling sites where all the boats were tied up. WOW!
Sunday, December 06, 2009
While on honeymoon in the Grenadines, we went over to Carriacou for the morning to have a look at our new boat getting built there. Ocean Nomad's new sister is almost finished and looks even better. Two feet longer at 42 feet, she is bigger all over and seems to have been finished a little finer. There was a mad rush to put Ocean Nomad into the water a few years ago in March so that we could race in the Antigua Classic Yacht Regatta a few weeks later.
This one is being finished more slowly and with more care.
Of course with Christmas and all the holidays associated with it, we are not pushing for a launch date to happen until early in the new year. As you can see the planking is done and most of the cotton caulking is finished as well.
Pitch has been used to fill most of the deck seems as well as much of the caulking below the waterline.
The cabin top which is a little higher on this boat is done as are the hatch covers which are very beautifully finished. We are going to keep this one to do private charters and high end cruises.
Of course it's main job will be taking the boss, his wife and friends out cruising and camping on our weekends off. I can't wait.
This man below is Alwyn Enoe the boat designer and builder.
These boats are built traditionally using local timber for the main structure and other Caribbean basin wood for the planking. No fiberglass is used and the entire process is done in a mostly sustainable manner. This is green boat building at it's best and we are delighted to be part of the process. We will keep updating you with photos and video. I have one or two friends who are counting on this boat to be ready for the Antigua Classic Yacht Regatta 2010. I am very sure it will be sailing in style then.
This man below is Alwyn Enoe the boat designer and builder.
Thursday, December 03, 2009
Ministry of Sound is a huge international record label which mainly produces very cool music mostly associated with clubs and disco sounds. They own several dance clubs around the globe with the one in London ranked in the top ten in the world by DJ Magazine in 2009. Whenever you go to the UK you see their CD compliations on the shelves of all the music stores. They do over 800 events internationally hosting nearly a million people each year. For the first time ever, this huge international dance sound will be hosting an event here in the Caribbean on Antigua. A friend of mine has invited them and will be hosting the crew while they are on the island. Abracadabra is the spot tomorrow night (where else could do it?) and it looks like it will be plenty of fun. Come out and check out the sounds of something different for a change. I'll see you there!