When the first commercial flight touched down in Antigua and Barbuda since the COVID-19 crisis began, arriving passengers were greeted by a host of new anti-infection procedures — as the destination officially reopened for tourism on June 4.
Of the destination’s nearly 40 hotels, resorts, condos and guest apartments, here are the properties that are open right now:
The Heritage Hotel
“The style of properties open now are perfectly set up for social distancing,” said Lorraine Headley-Raeburn, chairperson of the Antigua and Barbuda Tourism Authority Board of Directors.
The Villas at Sunset Lane intends to reopen on June 30, while four other resorts — The Great House, Cocobay Resort, Cocos Hotel, an Keyonna Resort — have plans to welcome guests back on July 1.
However, Blue Waters Resort and Galley Bay will stay shuttered until October, and The Inn at English Harbour won’t reopen until at least November. (Caribbean resorts closing down for the slower summer months is not unusual.) The Carlisle Bay resort says it will open sometime during the fourth quarter of 2020.
The majority of Antigua and Barbuda resorts have not yet announced reopening dates, including some of the most prominent properties on the island, such as Jumby Bay, Curtain Bluff, the St. James’ Club, and The Verandah.
New Protocols in Place
Island officials were excited and eager to welcome visitors back to the destination.
“This marks the first step back toward restoring our tourist economy,” said Charles Fernandez, Antigua and Barbuda’s Minister of Tourism and Industry.
Antigua-bound visitors will be required to complete heath-status disclosure forms before they land at V.C. Bird International Airport.
Upon arrival at the airport, tourists will be screened with mobile temperature-scanners and tested with nasal-swab rapid-result COVID-19 tests.
Visitors who test positive for the coronavirus will be required to enter quarantine at a government-operated facility.
Antibody tests also will be administered to arriving visitors and residents, either at the airport or at the hotel, with results promised within 24 hours.
Airport pickups will be by certified taxi companies only (no private cars), and occupancy in taxis will be limited to maintain safe social distancing.
Hotels will be required to comply with government sanitary protocols. Check-in will be done remotely, and staff and guests will be required to wear masks when in close proximity to other individuals.
Activities that make social distancing impractical or impossible will be shut down, but most water sports will be available, said Patrice Simon, Executive Director of the Antigua and Barbuda Hotels and Tourism Association, who said that small destination weddings (25 guests or less) would also be permitted.
Buffet dining will be prohibited, but masks will not be required while dining.
“We certainly don’t you to lounge on one of our 365 beaches while wearing a mask,” reassured Simon, who added that Antigua’s uncrowded beaches are “the perfect environment for social distancing.”
“People still want to travel, but their priorities have changed from seeking bargains to safety,” said Colin C. James, CEO of the Antigua and Barbuda Tourism Authority, who predicted that tourism would begin to rebound on the island as soon as this fall.
With Antigua’s proximity to the U.S. and Canada, good air service to the U.K., strong safety protocols, and a collection of mostly smaller resorts, “We are ideally positioned as a global leader in recovery” from COVID-19, James said.
American Airlines, with daily nonstop flights from Miami, is currently the only airline with scheduled commercial service between the U.S. and Antigua; the route resumed on June 4, when a flight with 150 returning nationals and a few dozen visitors landed at V.C. Bird International Airport. JetBlue is expected to resume flights from New York in early July, when flights from the U.K. are also expected to return.
The COVID protocols announced by Antigua officials are part of the nation’s Phase 1 response to the pandemic and will remain in place until Sept. 13. Antigua’s current evening curfew, in effect from 9 p.m. to 5 a.m., will be in place until June 12.