Many of the countries in this region depend on tourism, but the industry does not dominate the economies of every Caribbean state. Jamaica exports bauxite; St Lucia produces bananas and manufactures lights; and Barbados, described as having a well-developed mixed economy, also has offshore finance and information services as important foreign exchange earners.
Antigua & Barbuda relies mainly on tourism to keep those dollars flowing into the country. In fact, it accounts for more than half the Gross Domestic Product. Translation: if tourism suffers, we all suffer in this twin island state. Any one negative incident involving a visitor could have devastating, damaging effects on our image, on which we heavily rely to keep the visitor arrivals up. The person who once said, “Tourism is the tide that floats all of Antigua’s boats,” hit it on the nose.
So what is it that makes for a desirable tourism product for attracting the masses? For this part of the world, tourists expect to see pristine beaches – check. We boast 365 of those. But as environmentalists have warned, if we’re not careful of the development projects on our beaches and near our mangroves, serious adverse effects on our shorelines could result.
In addition, the wanton littering of our beaches – as has been recently highlighted on a couple of occasions in this newspaper – must stop. Not only does it create a nasty eyesore, but beach littering could have a devastating impact on surrounding marine life.
Continuing with our checklist, without friendly people, there is virtually no tourism product. Antigua & Barbuda has lots of warm, caring residents who, perhaps unbeknown to them, help to shape the visitor experience. We can recall quite a few incidents in which a valued possession made its way back to a panicked tourist, thanks to the kind efforts of a resident.
But unfortunately, negative encounters remain on our minds longer than positive ones. A hostile customs officer, an ill-mannered taxi driver, a dismissive salesperson, a clueless government worker can each single-handedly ruin a visitor’s impression of the destination and the damage could be pretty far-reaching. When visitors return home, they tell their friends of their unpleasant experience and that person will tell their friends, etc, etc. The country’s image suffers.
Unfortunately, encounters with such workers are rather common here, hence rigorous training in customer service is in order, not only for those whose professions fall directly within the tourism industry but anyone whose position requires interaction with the public.
Up-to-par accommodations, reasonable prices, and easy access to the destination are also elements of a good tourism product. While there is a lot of room for improvement, Antigua & Barbuda has a variety of places to stay, from the very practical to the luxurious.
Tourists here complain of the high prices quite frequently. Another issue is the situation at the airport for arriving and departing passengers. This newspaper has received several letters complaining of the treatment of passengers entering and leaving this country’s international airport. And then there are the common complaints about the lack of signs, exposed manholes in the city, harassment from vendors and taxi drivers, and the list goes on.
These are the issues with which those charged with managing our tourism affairs should concern themselves. Finger-pointing and buck-passing accomplish nothing and are actually counter-productive. Such indulgences take the focus from the main task at hand – wooing prospective visitors, enticing them to choose Antigua & Barbuda over say Jamaica, St Lucia, Barbados or even the Bahamas.