By Alexander Britell
Anguilla is one of the smallest destinations in the Caribbean, but its tourism sector has historically punched above its weight. Today, the island of less than 14,000 people competes in the increasingly tight Caribbean tourism sector, reliant on a high-end product and a largely maritime visitor base. So what’s next for Anguilla? To learn more, Caribbean Journal talked to Haydn Hughes, Anguilla’s Permanent Secretary for Tourism.
Where is the market right now in Anguilla?
I see the market as doing very well right now. Angulila has enjoyed this year over last year a 70 percent increase in daytrippers, and a 10.1 increase in stayover guests, which is significant, and above the Caribbean average. While it’s good, we’re not satisfied, and we would like it to be better. That is attributable to a number of initiatives we embarked on last year, namely the Real Housewives of Atlanta.
What are the major initiatives you’re working on?
Well, right now we have some beach vending legislation that was just approved and passed through Parliament, the rules and regulations on how beach vendors operate on our beaches, which we wanted to reflect who we are as Anguillians and as an Anguillian destination. We are also moving forward with some legislation called a dress code and code of conduct, which will give a greater appreciation for front-line personnel such as porters, ferry boat operators, boat workers and taxi drivers. Most of our tourists, about 80 percent, come via the ocean, so it’s important that we look the part.
Are you developing any new product?
There is a lot of product being developed on island as well. We have the Zemi Beach Resort, which is being constructed as we speak, the Manor Hotel, which is in the mobilization stages, and the Malliouhana hotel, which is the grandmother of them all, which is set to open its doors in December of this year under the flagship of Auberge resorts. So we’re very excited about the product being developed. And while we say this, we cannot forget that the CuisinArt owner is building a new hotel which is a 62-bedroom hotel, so we have a lot of new product that is coming on stream. And the CuisinArt just did some refurbishing, as did the Shoal Bay resort. So we are very excited at the properties that are taking the initiative.
Airlift in the region remains a problem, but it seems that carriers like COPA out of Panama are improving the situation incrementally. Has that been the case for Anguilla?
COPA has been immensely important. Not only to St Maarten, but also to Anguilla. It opens the Latin American gateway through Panama. COPA flies twice weekly to St Maarten, and it has given us an opportunity to bring in persons from Latin America to see our product, especially tour operators, writers, travel agents and so forth.
What do you envision for Anguilla’s market over the next five years?
We recently completed our sustainable tourism master plan, which will govern the way we operate over the next five years. Some new product is coming on stream, but we need to invest in infrastructure — roads, airport infrastructure and seaport infrastructure. And we need to make sure everybody’s on the same page. And these are the initiatives that we have already embarked on. So we’re very excited about the prospects for the future.
What are the major prongs of the master plan?
It’s about trying to develop our airlift capacity, trying to upgrade our product and add new offerings to the product. The development of festivals as well — because we have a great festival called Festival Del Mar. We also have sportfishing possibilities, and with the emergence of some of our athletes, including Shara Proctor, we are looking at developing our track to see how we can develop more sports tourism.
How do you see sustainable tourism developing in Anguilla?
Sustainable tourism is the only option. There’s only one thing that the Caribbean can do. And that is tourism. There is no other option. You hear a lot about the diversification of our economies, but diversification must always take into consideration the fact that tourism is the pillar, and will always be the pillar, and will be the pillar for the foreseeable future. Because if you look at most of those manufacturing countries in the Caribbean, and those agriculture-based countries in the Caribbean, even those countries that are rich in minerals and oil such as Trinidad, they’re diversifying into tourism. So what we need to do as a tourism-based economy is we need to enhance, we need to upgrade and we need to continue to be the best that any tourist can hope for. Because it’s our only option. I remember the days when we had nothing. Tourism has offered the Anguillian people a bit of luxury so to speak, and opportunities within Anguilla. So without tourism, we all fail.