1.2018 was a record-setting year for Antigua and Barbuda as it welcomed over one million visitors. Moreover Antigua and Barbuda tourism has seen a 12% increase in stay over visitor arrival this year. What is your vision on the tourism industry in the country? And where is it heading to?
Antigua has had a very good trend of growth in the past 5-6 years, thanks to local businessmen, the government and the tourism authority, we have an increase in the number of tourists especially in terms of stay-over visitors and returning visitors. There have been improvements in the services offered on the island not just for the tourism sector but also for other sectors of the economy such as health, business and financial services, which indirectly have a positive effect on the tourism sector. This has really helped the economy and I am a witness of this growth from 2012 until now.
I travel a lot around the Caribbean and in my opinion Antigua is the best, a major reason for it, is that Antigua has the lowest crime rate in the region, it is a very safe and peaceful place.
Secondly, it is an island with few players in the hotel industry, which only about 17 hotels on the island. We do not have long-term visitors yet, most of the tourists arrive via cruise ships, stay for a couple of hours then leave the island. This generates good revenue for the government and does not hurt the environment. We have plenty of beaches without having set up thousands of umbrellas, sun beds, bars and restaurants; it is still a very natural environment. This is the good thing about Antigua. The beaches are not over-crowded and you can enjoy them in peace.
2. Ocean Point Resort and Spa is built in a Mediterranean style and is a family business. What is the concept behind the resort?
Our motto is to try to be a home away from home for all our visitors. When I came here first, I realized that I needed a place that is personalized and fits my needs. The tourists now are more travelers than tourists so after beginning operations at the hotel, we started a company called the Sottovento Tours, which offers our guests an opportunity to have a great overview of the island. This is a place where you wake up in the morning, have a nice breakfast and then during the day if you want to spend the day here you can do so and if not, we take you on a nice excursion, we give you an adventurous experience. Rather than just eating, drinking and sleeping, our guests actually experience the island. We have a more artisan approach then other hotels, we try to build a holiday around your needs, to do activities that are personalized. Sometimes we achieve our goals, sometimes we do not but it is impossible to make everybody happy. We try to be the artisans of your holiday.
3. Please tell us more about the evolution and the amenities that you offer at Ocean Point Resort? What has been the growth strategy of the resort?
We have one restaurant, one bar and an excellent a la carte. We are Italians, so we try to mix the Italian taste with the Caribbean culture. Some of the ingredients that are typical of the Italian culture, such as cheese, ham, pasta, tomato sauce are imported directly from Italy to offer better quality on the buffet. We are in a beautiful place but we do not have the most beautiful beach spot so we have to offer our guests more for less. We offer 3-Star competitive rates so it is really affordable, we charge $220 per bedroom during the peak season and $209 during off season. We have a team of Italian chefs to ensure we offer authentic Italian taste. We also organize different type of nights throughout the week so for instance we have a night of Bar-BBQ, one of Sushi, one of local food. We try to provide diversity and variety in our food.
4. You have 69 rooms. What is your occupancy rate in low and in high season? What are your objectives for 2020?
Last year we had an occupancy rate of 90% during high season and 70% during low season. Overall we are close to 77%-78% occupancy, which is a good rate, 2019 was our strongest year ever.
The forecast for 2020 at the moment looks good, the demand is strong especially from the period of January until March and we are expecting a lot more bookings for the rest of the year. We may not grow as much as we did in 2018, but there is going to be an increase in the number of guests. Also, thanks to Royalton we have more rooms on the island. They have a strong capacity and I believe they are increasing visitors from the US and Canadian market.
5. What is the clientele are you aiming to get and your target market?
Unfortunately, Antigua is a very quiet island. We have this tradition of “repeaters” meaning people who come here for their honeymoon and keep coming back. The average age of the guests is over 50. I am a member of the Antigua Hotel Association and I am working hard in trying to attract a younger crowd to the island. We are trying to organize a unique kite surfing event in June. We will start the event with an endurance race from Barbuda to Antigua and professional kite surfers will be coming for the event. Promotion for this kit surfing week will be done through social media. We would also like to involve the local artists to have a concert at the end of each race. This will be something completely new for the island. My hotel has been promoting kite surfing in Antigua a lot because the kite surfing beach is only a 4-minute drive from my office. We are also looking to build a park for the freestyle; this will help us attract a lot of young people, sports enthusiasts and nature lovers.
6. We are focusing on showcasing the top hotels and resorts of the island; we are in talks with the Royalton, Sandals, Starfish Jolly Beach Resort, Elite Islands Resort, Rex Resorts. What sets you apart from them? What can the host expect from the Ocean Point Resort experience?
These are all big names, I may not be able to compete with them but I prefer quality. We have a one on one relationship with our guests, they can go to any other hotel in the world but they will only feel at home when they visit Ocean Point Resort. We know our guests and offer personalized services, for instance, on the second day of your visit, we will already know that you like to have your cappuccino in the morning. In this hotel, the staff works in a way that they know you and you know them, it is like a family.
7. As agreed with Hon. Charles Fernandez, Minister of Tourism and Investment, we will be publishing our report about Antigua & Barbuda in Miami Herald on February 14th 2020, Valentines Day. Please tell us what makes Ocean Point Resort the perfect honeymoon destination and the services that you offer?
We offer a honeymoon package with a romantic dinner and a romantic experience. We have a beautiful island in front of our sea school called prickly pear. It is a very beautiful small island with calm water and a peaceful environment. We organize a sunset and dinner event on the island for our honeymoon guests.
8. Human resources is an important factor in hostelry, how prepared are they in the hotel industry in Antigua and Barbuda? How do you find good staff for your resorts?
We have a hospitality-training institute that organizes courses and I am proud about it because the private sector is helping the community on the island a lot. Every year we organize a class for each type of department such as housekeeping, maintenance, etc etc. There are programs available to teach all type of services required in the hospitality sector.
9. Antigua and Barbuda has strong bilateral links with the United States and especially Florida. Which marketing strategies are you currently using to get to these clients in the US and how would you like to develop them?
The U.S market is always a difficult market, it needs a lot of investment and a small independent hotel like ours does not have many chances to promote our hotel in the U.S market without a partner. In our case that partner is Expedia. I hope to benefit from this increase through the U.S market in Antigua and Barbuda.
10. Aside from your experience as Hotel GM, what do you feel most proud of in your personal life?
In general I am proud of my family. Antigua is a very nice place for children to grow up because the community is very close to the children, even if you leave your children somewhere, there will always be someone watching over. It is a very strong and close knitted community.
11. What is your final message for Miami Herald readers who consider Antigua & Barbuda as a potential tourism destination? Why does Ocean Point Resort offer the best customer experience?
Ocean Point Resort offers the best customer experience because of our attention to details along with the fact that it is a family run business. As far as I know there are only a few family run hotels in the island.