Gaston A. Browne, the youngest person ever to be elected prime minister of the Caribbean nation of Antigua and Barbuda, is well aware of the importance of tourism to his nation's economy. “Antigua is a tourism driven economy. That is the bread and butter of our country. We must be sure that we place the emphasis where the emphasis is required. In essence, to empower [our] people, we must attract more tourists and we must attract more investments for our country.”
Located in the Leeward Islands, Antigua, the larger of the two islands that make up this nation, boasts several major resorts including a Sandals and the resort community at Jumby Bay. Antigua also attracts yacht owners and sailing enthusiasts each year to English Harbour. And it is an increasingly popular cruise destination, with a fine cruise ship harbor at St. John's.
But Mr. Browne is not content with the status quo. “We have set a very ambitious vision for our country and that is to transform Antigua and Barbuda into an economic powerhouse of the Caribbean. We are confident that we can do it. Together, the people of Antigua and Barbuda have the will, the skills, the determination and the competence that is needed. But we cannot do it alone. We need to engage various stakeholders throughout the globe.”
“Antigua and Barbuda is the best country for tourism in the world. I have taken this position [because of] its natural beauty, beaches, the climate, its people - - there is no other country on the planet that has the combination of resources that we have. White sand beaches with pristine waters, there is no other country that can boast such assets. But what we needed was investment dollars to develop those properties. And the dollars are now flowing in.”
Indeed, in office just over 100 days when we spoke with him, Mr. Browne is able to point to several impressive examples of foreign investors making commitments to Antigua and Barbuda's tourism industry. Chinese investors have purchased land and obtained permission to develop a $200 million “mega-resort” on Antigua that will include leisure and entertainment facilities as well as hotels. Investors from the United Arab Emirates plan to build a $150 million resort at Morris Bay. A Canadian firm is going to invest millions of dollars re-developing a resort property and building additional rooms. In addition, infrastructure improvements are being made such as a new airport terminal funded by China.
Mr. Browne also has plans to increase cruise tourism. “We are just about to source a $200 million to fund the development of the cruise tourism as well as the cargo port. The cruise port will see the addition of a third cruise ship pier as well as additional shops.”
“I believe the shopping experience right through the Caribbean needs to be improved,” Mr. Browne commented. “We want to make sure that when visitors come to this country, they have a very rich shopping experience.”
“In the port, there will be considerably more leisure and entertainment activities. For instance, part of the plan calls for the establishment of a museum, one in which the tourists in maybe five or 10 minutes will get a synopsis of our history from slavery days right up to [today's] Antigua and Barbuda. We are also looking into ways for it to be a local entertainment product where they could have some integration with the locals, just to ensure that they have a much richer experience. ”
The government is also looking beyond the port, keeping in mind that many cruise visitors also want to have experiences away from their ships. In addition to its numerous beaches, Antigua has the popular Nelson's Dockyard site, so named because of its connection to the British naval hero Admiral Lord Nelson. But inasmuch as the island hopes that cruise passengers will return again and again, more attractions are planned.
“We are in the process of developing the various heritage sites throughout the country. We had an expert down just last week on the island who is assisting us to develop the other heritage sites. We have a number of them - - we have Shirley's Heights, Fort James.”
In the near future, Barbuda will be opened up to cruise ships. “This season we will have about eight cruise ship calls in Barbuda. This will be the first time that we have had them. The actual land-based infrastructure is not in place yet but efforts are being made to [develop] the land-based infrastructure for these tourists. Barbuda has easily some of the finest beaches. The sand in Barbuda is actually pink sand. The prospects of Barbuda as our sister island are also very bright.”
One of the great attractions of Antigua is its natural beauty. With all this planned development is there a danger of throwing the baby out with the bath water?
“Our government is determined that the investment should not disturb the ecology of the area. Administratively and even within the laws of the country, there is a requirement that developments be done on a sustainable basis. We want to make sure that we leave the country better for future generations.”
Cruise destination - - Antigua - Prime Minister Gaston A. Browne