The cruise industry has grown exponentially in the past few years with Antigua hosting around 800,000 cruise passengers in 2018. Please give us your input on Antigua and Barbuda’s cruise port facilities?
Antigua and Barbuda’s cruise port is in Saint John which is the capital city of Antigua, it currently has four piers and a shopping center called Heritage Quay with food and beverage shops, gift shops, spas and local retailers. A lot of tours take tourists to different excursions and beaches on the island. It is said that there are 365 beaches in Antigua; one for everyday of the year and the port is a warm and scenic area with colorful, renovated 19th century buildings.
On February 1st GPH signed a US $80 million exclusive 30-year concession agreement with the Government of Antigua and Barbuda to manage cruise port facilities and operations in the country. You announced recently that you had started cruise port operations in Antigua. Why did you choose Antigua & Barbuda as an investment destination? And what opportunities do you see in the country?
Antigua is a very well-located tourist destination for cruise ships. The island is one of the highlights of Southern and Eastern Caribbean cruise itineraries. It can be reached directly out of Miami, San Juan (Puerto Rico) and other major ports in the Eastern Caribbean.
On top of that, the port has the potential to grow and improve. In terms of our vision, we are planning to carry out an initial investment of US$45 to US$50 million in the first 12 months of operation to complete a new pier which will handle some of the world’s largest cruise ships that can accommodate up to 6500 passengers. Our target is to reach over 1 million passengers in the short term. We also plan to invest around US$25 million for improvements of the existing shopping complex and to create other retail and F&B facilities in the new pier we are building.
What expertise will Global Ports Holding bring to Antigua?
We operate cruise ports around the world all the way from Singapore to the Bahamas. We have a large number of cruise ports in Europe and our expertise is in designing, building and operating cruise ports. We make sure that we take best practices, turn those into standard operating procedures and implement them in new ports and destinations.
In terms of operation, construction, design and commercialization of the port, there is a lot of expertise we can bring to Antigua. Moreover, while working with the government, the local businesses and local stakeholders, we want to make sure we can improve the passenger experience by designing attributes specific to this port.
You have been working with Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. to develop Antigua and Barbuda’s cruise capabilities. Are you looking for further potential partnerships?
We are collaborating with Royal Caribbean and other cruise lines to improve the facilities and bring in more and bigger ships to the island. We are preparing ourselves for an important increase in passengers and we are open to further collaboration with cruise lines.
Antigua’s government has been a key player in making this project happen. What has been its role in making sure this project would take place?
As a private port operator, our interests are very much aligned with the government. They want to get new investment coming in while improving services and passenger experience. They are very open to innovation and new ideas that benefit the country. It was also very important for them that this investment was made in collaboration with local stakeholders.
Preserving the environment for future generations is one of your key priorities. How important is sustainability and what are you doing in order to protect Antigua’s environment?
In the ports that we operate around the world, we have already started an initiative called EcoPorts Port Environmental Review Systems (PERS). Its aim is to increase awareness about environmental challenges, to deliver compliance with legislation and to demonstrate a high standard of environmental management. We made an environmental impact survey in Antigua and Barbuda to ensure that we meet their environmental framework.
You have 20+ years of managing multinational organizations and brands in a variety of industries notably working for Unilever, Microsoft, Kodak, Merrill Lynch, Turkcell, VimpleComWhat and Verizon Wireless. You have now been CEO of Global Port Holdings for over 3 years, what do you feel most proud of in your personal life?
I feel proud of being able to create a global company that specializes and leads in cruise port operations. Within those 3 years, we also succeeded in taking the company public on the London Stock Exchange (LSE) which is a big achievement. We are pioneers in this industry and provide an alternative in terms of service to governments around the world. 30 years ago, governments managed almost all airports but with time most airports got privatized as technology and operations developed. What followed was an important improvement in efficiency and experience in the whole air travel industry. I do not see why this could not happen in the cruise industry, and we are leading the field globally in this area.
What is your final message for Miami Herald readers who consider Antigua & Barbuda as a potential investment destination?
Antigua and Barbuda is a wonderful destination with Its wonderful beaches, mild climate and authentic feel. It is becoming more and more available and popular with cruise passengers. We recommend all who want to have a taste of Antigua to book a cruise tomorrow. We also welcome anyone who wishes to come to Antigua and invest or collaborate with us, as collaboration forms part of our identity.
In terms of local businesses, we would encourage local business owners who can provide exciting products and services that improve the customer experience at this destination to come to us with ideas.
Within the broader Caribbean region, we are always on the lookout for new cruise ports where we can work to bring our experience and operational best practice to help realise the full potential of these destinations.