LAY­ING THE GROUND­WORK FOR AN ECO­NOMIC POW­ER­HOUSE

Dis­cover more about An­tigua and Bar­buda’s bright fu­ture in Voices of Lead­ers’ in­ter­ac­tive ebooks.

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Famed as a tropic idyll, the palms that shade the twin-is­land na­tion of An­tigua and Bar­buda mask its peo­ple’s fixed

de­ter­mi­na­tion. From the of­fice of the prime min­is­ter to the boards that line its quays, the is­landers are ac­tively en­gaged in gen­er­at­ing growth. The is­lands’ beaches – of which there’s said to be one for each day of the year – and its trop­i­cal cli­mate have long at­tracted vis­i­tors in search of a par­adi­s­aical es­cape, but un­der Prime Min­is­ter Gas­ton Browne’s ad­min­is­tra­tion the coun­try is keen to prove that these is­lands are more than a se­cluded par­adise.

The na­tion’s Tourism Author­ity in­sists on its web­site that “the beach is just the be­gin­ning,” and this is be­gin­ning to be recog­nised. Nel­son’s Dock­yard and Park was des­ig­nated a UNESCO World Her­itage Site in 2016, at­test­ing to An­tigua and Bar­buda’s cul­tural and his­tor­i­cal riches, which also in­clude nu­mer­ous for­ti­fi­ca­tions dat­ing back to its his­tory as a port for the Bri­tish Em­pire. Chet Greene, the is­lands’ Min­is­ter for Trade and Cul­ture, talks ea­gerly about up­com­ing projects to ex­hibit their brim­ming legacy. He tells us of plans for a sculp­ture park themed on the coun­try’s slave an­ces­try, and for the rais­ing of at least five slave-ship wrecks from its coastal wa­ters. “They rep­re­sent not only tourist at­trac­tions; they rep­re­sent our cul­tural her­itage, our iden­tity.”

Min­is­ter for Tourism Asot An­thony Michael has three main ob­jec­tives for growth: “new tourism in­vest­ments, in­creased air­lift, and the rede­vel­op­ment of the port and city of St. John’s.” Nor are these goals sim­ply rhetoric:

The ex­pan­sion of the coun­try’s ma­jor in­ter­na­tional air­port, the VC Bird In­ter­na­tional Air­port, was com­pleted in the au­tumn of 2015. It is the first so­lar-pow­ered air­port in the re­gion, ac­com­mo­dat­ing more than dou­ble the 800,000 pas­sen­gers that passed through the old ter­mi­nal, and was de­signed to fa­cil­i­tate growth up to 2.5 mil­lion pas­sen­gers over the next 25 years. In­vest­ment in tourism has be­come the ba­sis for one of

Prime Min­is­ter Browne’s most im­por­tant pledges – namely “to in­crease the is­lands’ ho­tel avail­abil­ity from 3,000 rooms to 10,000 in the next 5-7 years.”

The scale of this ex­pan­sion is not un­jus­ti­fied. The air­port’s old ter­mi­nal was op­er­at­ing at full ca­pac­ity, and since ex­pan­sion the tourism in­dus­try is ex­pe­ri­enc­ing some­thing of a boom. CEO of the Tourism Author­ity Colin James re­flects proudly on his coun­try’s suc­cesses: “In 2016, we had 108,000 vis­i­tors from the USA. It was the first time we crossed the 100,000 mark.” His pride cen­tres on the Author­ity’s mod­ern, for­ward-think­ing ap­proach to mar­ket­ing the is­lands: “Peo­ple search for va­ca­tion ex­pe­ri­ences and book them on­line, so we have been a part of that in a very mean­ing­ful way. We are one of the stronger part­ners of Ex­pe­dia, for ex­am­ple, in the re­gion.”

In ex­pand­ing the port, too, much has al­ready been ac­com­plished. The har­bour has been dredged and the pier ex­tended in or­der to ac­com­mo­date the Quan­tum class of cruise ship, and work on a new fifth berth is un­der­way which will ac­com­mo­date the larger Oa­sis class. Se­na­tor

Marie Claire Hurst, Chair­man of the Port Author­ity, works with an aware­ness of the sig­nif­i­cance of these ad­vances for An­tiguans in gen­eral: “When the first Quan­tum class ves­sel came in, I would equate it to a Car­ni­val. The peo­ple here un­der­stand the im­por­tance of this kind of de­vel­op­ment.” Over 6,000 pas­sen­gers travel on each Oa­sis class ship – an ex­cit­ing prospect for tourism in An­tigua. On the other side of the is­land of An­tigua is Fal­mouth

Har­bour, the coun­try’s only des­ig­nated megay­acht ma­rina. Ser­vic­ing the ex­trav­a­gant yachts of the su­per-rich, it too is un­der con­stant de­vel­op­ment. Gen­eral Man­ager Robert Reis makes sure of this: “Ev­ery year we make a ma­jor im­prove­ment. About 60-70% of our busi­ness is re­peat busi­ness, so we try to make their ex­pe­ri­ence an en­joy­able one.” The ma­rina has been im­proved year on year to be­come a fa­cil­ity fit­ting for the wealth

and glam­our it ac­com­mo­dates. Reis wel­comes Min­is­ter Asot Michael’s up­com­ing mar­ket­ing plan for yacht­ing: “He’s ap­proved a pro­posal for a ma­jor cam­paign to pro­mote An­tigua as a yacht­ing des­ti­na­tion, and now it’s a matter of find­ing US$2 mil­lion to do it.”

The ben­e­fits of An­tigua and Bar­buda’s re­de­vel­op­ments are not con­fined to the tourism in­dus­try. Ex­pan­sion and mod­erni­sa­tion of both port and air­port are in­tended to fa­cil­i­tate the coun­try’s con­ver­sion into a com­mer­cial hub for the re­gion. The is­lands’ po­si­tion at the north­ern tip of the East­ern Caribbean of­fers im­por­tant geostrate­gic ad­van­tages. Se­na­tor Hurst speaks of the ex­cit­ing com­mer­cial ben­e­fits that rede­vel­op­ment of the port will of­fer: “Our lo­ca­tion af­fords us the op­por­tu­nity to tran­ship to as far as Africa, and for cheaper.” With this po­ten­tial in mind, plans have been made to up­grade the port’s cargo ter­mi­nal and in­tro­duce a lo­gis­tics park, open­ing the door to pri­vate in­vest­ment and en­sur­ing ab­so­lute op­er­a­tional ef­fi­ciency. Fol­low­ing im­prove­ments, Port Man­ager Dar­win

Tele­maque sees noth­ing hold­ing the coun­try back from its own lofty as­pi­ra­tions: “We are well-placed within the archipelago, be­ing very cen­tral. With this po­si­tion, and the com­bi­na­tion of the best air­port and the best con­tainer ter­mi­nal in the re­gion, the place to do busi­ness has to be An­tigua and Bar­buda.”

In line with its am­bi­tions, the Port Author­ity, led by Tele­maque and Se­na­tor Hurst, works tire­lessly to ad­vance the port and the coun­try with it. It has led ne­go­ti­a­tions for an his­toric agree­ment with Gu­atemalan com­pany Ode­pal, which is tasked with con­struc­tion and op­er­a­tion of Gu­atemala’s ‘in­ter-oceanic cor­ri­dor’; a fa­cil­ity to ri­val the Panama Canal in the trans­porta­tion of crude oil, food­stuffs, and other ma­te­ri­als. It is the first time the port will be linked di­rectly to Cen­tral Amer­ica, South Amer­ica, and Africa.

An­tigua and Bar­buda’s po­ten­tial as a lo­gis­tics hub, as Tele­maque men­tions, is not lim­ited to the port. Its air­port, newly ren­o­vated, also brings ex­cit­ing new op­por­tu­ni­ties. Stan­ley Smith, CEO of the Air­port Author­ity, fore­sees sim­i­lar ben­e­fits: “An­tigua is a nat­u­ral feed for air­lines com­ing from North Amer­ica and Europe to take pas­sen­gers and cargo to the rest of the re­gion.” He adds that his Author­ity’s plans for de­vel­op­ment are not lim­ited to the in­ter­na­tional air­port on An­tigua, but on de­vel­op­ing in Bar­buda as well: “We are look­ing to de­velop a small air­port in Bar­buda which could han­dle at least Cat­e­gory C air­craft, the low­est of which would be a 737.”

Work on the new in­ter­na­tional air­port is long fin­ished, but none in the coun­try is rest­ing on his

lau­rels in real­is­ing its trans­for­ma­tion into the hub it might be­come. The Prime Min­is­ter him­self has led del­e­ga­tions to China and the UAE and, as An­tigua’s Non-res­i­dent Am­bas­sador to China Brian Ste­wart

Young tells us, led “very pro­duc­tive dis­cus­sions with air­lines such as Emi­rates.” The Am­bas­sador sees great im­por­tance in tap­ping into the Chi­nese mar­ket in or­der to ex­pand on the is­lands’ sources of in­vest­ment and tourism, and goes on to out­line the ben­e­fits of such a part­ner­ship: “A syn­ergy could de­velop be­tween that re­gion, through Dubai, with flights con­nect­ing with An­tigua. That would open up op­por­tu­ni­ties for greater Chi­nese move­ments be­cause they would not be con­cerned with visas that would be nec­es­sary to go through Canada, the UK, or the US.”

Am­bas­sador Ste­wart-young is also CEO of Global Bank of Com­merce, and speaks proudly of the fi­nan­cial in­fras­truc­ture al­ready in place to sup­port the in­vest­ment and tourism he is keen to pro­mote in these new mar­kets: “We es­tab­lished an in­ter­na­tional pro­cess­ing cen­tre for VISA and Master­card which is even con­nected to China Union­pay, so it is al­ready in a po­si­tion to ac­com­mo­date Chi­nese vis­i­tors.” No­table in the Am­bas­sador’s dis­course, in both his pub­lic and pri­vate func­tions, is his com­mit­ment to ad­vanc­ing An­tigua and Bar­buda and its peo­ple. “You have to be able to live as one with the com­mu­nity,” he says. “We must con­tinue to en­sure that the indige­nous sec­tor re­mains vi­able, oth­er­wise our re­gion will be de­pen­dent on for­eign bank­ing ser­vices di­rected from of­fices ex­ter­nally, which poses a se­ri­ous risk to the lo­cal econ­omy.”

This sense of pride in serv­ing the com­mu­nity is wo­ven deeply into the fab­ric of An­tigua and Bar­buda’s so­ci­ety. State In­sur­ance Cor­po­ra­tion, ini­tially es­tab­lished as a de­part­ment of gov­ern­ment, ex­pe­ri­enced ex­plo­sive growth in its in­fancy and now gen­er­ates well over US$14 mil­lion an­nu­ally, but has not lost sight of its ini­tial pur­pose. Gen­eral Man­ager Lyn­dell Fran­cis But­ler be­lieves this is what sets State In­sur­ance apart: “We were es­tab­lished to pro­vide af­ford­able in­sur­ance for mid­dle and lower-class in­comes in An­tigua, and we have done that suc­cess­fully over the years.” The com­pany has in­tro­duced a pi­o­neer­ing med­i­cal pack­age to its port­fo­lio, mak­ing med­i­cal cover af­ford­able to thou­sands of the is­lands’ cit­i­zens, and will in­sure up to 1,200 homes to be built un­der a new gov­ern­ment ini­tia­tive. Chair­man Barry Knight’s as­pi­ra­tions are as much for his coun­try’s peo­ple as they are for his com­pany’s ad­vance­ment: “I want to see ev­ery home in An­tigua car­ry­ing life in­sur­ance and health in­sur­ance. That would be a good day.”

Prop­erty in­sur­ance is prov­ing to be one of the

most promising ar­eas of the An­tiguan mar­ket for

State In­sur­ance’s com­peti­tors, but Scott Kel­sick, CEO of Kel­sick In­sur­ance, cites a dif­fer­ent rea­son: “The CIP is do­ing well, so we are see­ing more move­ment [in prop­erty].” The CIP, or Cit­i­zen­ship by In­vest­ment

Pro­gramme, has been cen­tral to An­tigua and Bar­buda’s suc­cess. The pro­gramme, as its name sug­gests, of­fers An­tiguan cit­i­zen­ship to those who in­vest in the coun­try. Mod­elled on those of neigh­bour­ing coun­tries, it has since sur­passed all oth­ers to be­come the lead­ing pro­gramme of its kind in the re­gion. Its suc­cess stems in large part from the at­trac­tive­ness of An­tigua and Bar­buda’s pass­port, which of­fers visa-free travel to 134 coun­tries and is the only pass­port in the re­gion to of­fer visa-free travel to Canada.

Do­minique D’aloia, founder and CEO of Par­adise Prop­er­ties and a res­i­dent on the is­land for over 30 years, hails the CIP as a “great leap.” She adds that the Browne ad­min­is­tra­tion is “do­ing ev­ery­thing that needs to be done to bring the is­land into a flour­ish­ing time.” Par­adise

Prop­er­ties is cer­tainly see­ing the ben­e­fits, cap­i­tal­is­ing on their deep knowl­edge of the lo­cal real es­tate mar­ket to ser­vice buy­ers com­ing into the coun­try.

Prime Min­is­ter Browne boasts of in­vest­ments “north of US$3 bil­lion,” thanks in large part to the

CIP, but prop­erty is not the only area in which agen­cies like State In­sur­ance, Kel­sick In­sur­ance – a self-de­scribed “niche player of­fer­ing a more per­son­alised in­sur­ance” – and the long-stand­ing

Brysons Ship­ping & In­sur­ance stand to gain. Marine in­sur­ance still plays a large role in the An­tiguan mar­ket, and with re­de­vel­op­ments and ex­pected growth in this sec­tor in years to come it is sure to grow. Brysons, ac­cord­ing to Man­ag­ing Di­rec­tor Patrick Ryan, “are agents for 95% of the cruise ship lin­ers that come to An­tigua and have a long-es­tab­lished re­la­tion­ship with the Florida Cruise and Caribbean As­so­ci­a­tion (FCAA), which most of the ships be­long to.” Any growth in this sec­tor will cer­tainly mean growth for Brysons, and op­por­tu­ni­ties for other play­ers to ex­pand their port­fo­lio into this area as well.

An­tigua and Bar­buda’s project for growth was com­pre­hen­sive and am­bi­tious, stretch­ing from de­vel­op­ing in­fras­truc­ture to largescale pro­mo­tion. It is early, but the coun­try gen­er­ated more than 4% eco­nomic growth in 2016 – a level of early suc­cess the Prime Min­is­ter him­self could not have an­tic­i­pated. There is still work to be done, but the ground­work is laid for this twin-is­land na­tion to be­come the eco­nomic pow­er­house of the Caribbean.

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