by Ron Bernthal
The Government of Antigua & Barbuda has announced a phased approach to the reopening of the country’s tourism and hospitality industry as they prepare to welcome the first guests back on the island on June 4th, 2020, the first day of Phase 1. The Ministry of Health, Wellness & Environment has determined that the country is now ready to reopen the borders to international and regional travelers, while utilizing a phased and controlled approach. Phase 2 is expected to begin in mid-September 2020.
A series of travel safety protocols are being introduced which impact every element of the visitor experience, from arrivals at ports of entry, through ground transfers, resort accommodations, restaurants, tours and attractions.
“The health and safety of our residents and our visitors will always be our top priority,” stated the Hon. Charles “Max” Fernandez, Minister of Tourism & Investment. “Despite the severe economic strain on our economy resulting from the closure of our tourism industry, we waited until we were in a position to reassure both our citizens and our prospective guests that every precaution is being taken to ensure a safe and enjoyable vacation experience. The travel safety protocols have been developed under the guidance of the Ministry of Health, with the full support and cooperation of our stakeholders.”
“We look forward to welcoming visitors back to Antigua and Barbuda,” said Colin James, CEO, Antigua and Barbuda Tourism Authority. “While we look forward to our borders opening, this is still a highly unprecedented time and we realize that we are now entering a new and ever-changing landscape. Priorities in the travel industry have shifted, and our visitors’ priorities are different, we have worked diligently across all sectors on the islands as well as in collaboration with our Caribbean neighbors to prepare for the new normal and to ensure a healthy and safe environment for all.”
Phase one of the reopening includes the following safety measures:
• All arriving passengers must have a mask in their possession for use on disembarkation, which must be worn in public areas throughout their stay in Antigua and Barbuda.
• All arriving passengers must complete a health declaration form. Screenings and thermal checks will occur on arrival and passengers may be asked to undergo a rapid antigen test on arrival or at their hotel.
• With regard to airport transfers, up to 4 members of a family are allowed in a single vehicle while larger commercial passenger transport vehicles are permitted to carry only 50% of the vehicle seating capacity, for example 7 passengers in a 15 –seater vehicle. Vehicles must be kept clean and sanitized after each trip, and all will be equipped with hand sanitizer. All vehicles will be subject to random inspections by public health officers and certified vehicles will clearly display a decal indicating safety approval.
• Passengers arriving by sailing craft (private yachts/Ferry Services) are subject to the guidelines issued by Port Health.
• All hospitality accommodations to include hotels, resorts, villas and home rentals must satisfy the stipulations of the Ministry of Health Wellness and the Environment and be certified prior to reopening to welcome visitors.
• Restaurant dining protocols include enhanced cleaning and disinfecting of frequently touched surfaces, incorporate physical distancing measures, and will offer à la carte dining and delivery or takeout services, instead of buffet.
Antigua (pronounced An-tee’ga) and Barbuda (Bar-byew’da) is located in the heart of the Caribbean Sea, offering two uniquely distinct experiences, ideal temperatures year-round, a rich history, vibrant culture, exhilarating excursions, award-winning resorts, mouth-watering cuisine and 365 stunning pink and white-sand beaches – one for every day of the year.
The largest of the Leeward Islands, Antigua’s 108 square-miles offer spectacular topography that provides a variety of sightseeing opportunities, including Nelson’s Dockyard, the only remaining example of a Georgian fort UNESCO World Heritage site. Antigua also attracts visitors for popular events like Antigua Sailing Week, Antigua Classic Yacht Regatta, and the annual Antigua Carnival, known as the Caribbean’s Greatest Summer Festival.
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 Antigua’s nearly 40 hotels, resorts, condos and guest apartments, here are the properties that have already opened as of June 4, 2020: Admirals Inn and Gunpowder Suites; Antigua Village; The Buccaneer Beach Club; The Hawksbill Resort; The Heritage Hotel, Hodges Bay Resort & Spa; Tamarind Hills, Hammock Cove Resort, and Sandals Grande Antigua. Others will open in the coming weeks and months.
Barbuda, Antigua’s smaller sister island, is the ultimate hideaway. The island lies 27 miles north-east of Antigua, just a 15-minute plane ride away. Barbuda is known for its untouched 17 mile stretch of pink sand beach and as the home of the largest Frigate Bird Sanctuary in the Western Hemisphere. There are a number of smaller islands that a part of the Commonwealth of Antigua & Barbuda, including Great Bird, Green, Guiana, Long, Maiden, Prickly Pear, York and further south, the island of Redonda). The permanent population of all the islands is about 95,900, with 97% living on Antigua, and about half of those living in the capital city of St. John’s.
In 2017 Barbuda, which covers only 62 square miles, was the first to feel the force of Hurricane Irma. When the storm made landfall on September 6th, it hit Barbuda with about 150 mph winds, damaging an estimated 90% of the island’s properties. All of its 1,600 residents were evacuated to Antigua, but most have by now returned. Because of Barbuda’s low-key tourism, and its small, sustainable fishing and lobster industry, the island attracts leisure visitors who desire a quiet environment, with less touristic activities. The largest town on Barbuda is Codrington, with about 700-800 residents. Check with the Antigua & Barbuda Tourism Authority for current updates on open accommodations on both islands.
Getting There: Due to Covid-19 flight restrictions, contact your preferred air carrier for schedule updates to Antigua & Barbuda from the U.S. The routes and frequencies below may have changed.
• American Airlines flies direct from JFK and from Miami on a daily basis.
• United Airlines flies direct from Newark (EWR) every Saturday and Sunday.
• Delta Airlines flies direct from Atlanta (ATL) and from JFK every Saturday.
• U.S. Airways flies direct from Charlotte NC (CTL) every Saturday.
• Jet Blue flies direct from JFK.