Canadian visits to Antigua & Barbuda is booming
One of the things that Colin James will tell you straight off is that the Canadian market has always been a strong one for Antigua & Barbuda.
James, the CEO of the Antigua & Barbuda Tourism Authority, points out that not only is Canada its third largest source market, “one of the things we love about Canadians is that they are travellers who like to explore and to get off the beaten track. Canadians want to get out there and really explore the island to see what we have to offer.”
In conversation with Travel Courier, James explained that along with exploring Antigua & Barbuda, Canadian visitors also like the type of accommodations that the destination offers – boutique type hotels – not high rises – that allow them to have “that authentic experience.”
The proof of what he says is found in the fact that before the pandemic, Antigua & Barbuda welcomed around 35,000 Canadians each year and “since we have restarted, we have come back in a strong way. By the mid-point in July of this year, there were over 17,000 Canadians visiting Antigua & Barbuda. So we know we’re back on track. We’re doing remarkably well.”
James is also pleased by the kind of lift that will be coming out of Canada to Antigua & Barbuda this winter, telling TC that the destination has direct flights from Toronto on WestJet, Air Canada and Sunwing, along with a weekly service out of Montreal.
“This winter season will be particularly strong,” James observed, continuing: “It’s really strong because every day of the week there will be a flight to Antigua [from Canada]. We’ll have five rotations from Air Canada; 2 from WestJet; 1 from Sunwing and they’re spaced so that they don’t compete with each other on any of those days. So, Monday to Monday you can find a flight to Antigua.”
Asked about what makes Antigua & Barbuda unique, James pointed to the 365 beaches – one for every day of the year – that will offer Canadians a respite for this country’s chilling winters.
But what really sets Antigua & Barbuda apart, James says, is its people, observing: What’s unique about Antigua – it’s our people. It’s the hospitality. It’s the warmth. It’s the welcoming aspect of the culture that causes us to embrace our visitors and make sure that they have a unique experience.”
So where do travel advisors fit in the plan, well said James: “Travel agents are critical. They’re our ambassadors. I like to call them travel ambassadors because that’s what they are. They help us tell our story and they are one of the most effective channels to market in the hospitality industry.”
He pointed out that while some people talk about the end of the travel agent, “the recent pandemic that we went through showed us that relationships matter, people matter.”
James continued: “It’s great that you can go online and book, but if you have a crisis, who do you come back to? Who do you call? Who do you reach out to? And that’s where our travel ambassadors come in and that’s a key part of our distribution strategy and why we’ve been so successful because we cultivate those relationships.”
As James sees it “people do business with people because they like them first and foremost and they have a relationship.”
And that belief is part and parcel of pretty much everything the tourism authority does with travel agent education strategy – with its webinars and fam trips.
Said James: “We really reach out to our partners for them to come to the islands, to know about the islands, so that they can effectively sell and match it to their customer base.”
One of the things that James points out is that along with offering accommodation to suit many different budgets, coming out of the pandemic, the destination has been able to increase its ADRs (average daily rates) which is good news for the travel agents who will earn higher commissions as a result.
And by getting agents onto the islands, James said that they can see the products that match what their clients are looking for, observing that: “People sell what they know. Seeing is believing, so we make sure that our agents have the training and that they are brought down to the island so that they can effectively sell it and we support them as much as we possibly can.”
In fact, James points to his team here in Canada and the job that they’re doing, telling TC: “We have a small team here, but they punch well above their weight. What they lack in financial resources they make up in personality and creativity and just networking. It is so critical to do that.”
So, what’s the takeaway, well said James: “If you are looking for a destination that has an unforgettable experience where you can be immersed in a Caribbean culture and you can be among people who are hospitable, who are welcoming and where you can get it at an affordable rate for whatever your pocket [book] can afford or take, it has to be Antigua & Barbuda.
He continued: “Where we can get you there in four and a half hours from the Greater Toronto area and have you on that beach enjoying the sunshine and the water and the people and the food, it has to be Antigua & Barbuda.”
James concludes: “We like to say you take away unforgettable memories that will last you a lifetime and the only thing that you leave are your footprints in the sand.”