The Center for Disease Control (CDC) order requiring travelers to present a negative COVID-19 test result before boarding a flight to the United States was officially rescinded on June 12.
That news, coupled with Antigua’s already-relaxed COVID protocols, has tourism board officials and travel agents excited about the selling potential of Antigua and Barbuda going forward.
“The fact that we are not requiring passengers to be vaccinated to enter the destination, along with our relaxed travel protocols, we have seen an uptick in our passenger arrivals numbers,” said Dean Fenton, U.S. director for the Antigua & Barbuda Tourism Authority.
“In addition, all of our hotels that are opened have to be COVID-certified, along with our taxis,” he noted, “so passengers vacationing on our twin-island destination feel safe and relaxed.”
Travel Market Report (TMR) recently spoke to some top Caribbean travel specialists to see what traveling to Antigua and Barbuda during the pandemic has been like and if they expect the island’s business to grow significantly after the recent change to U.S. protocols.
Here’s what they had to say.
“Thanks to the lifting of restrictions, we have seen an increase of requests for Antigua,” said Stephen Scott, an advisor with Protravel International in Chicago, “which, throughout the pandemic, had some of the toughest hoops to jump through for entry.”
Along with certifying hotels and other accommodations, the health and tourism authorities have also certified a number of leisure activities.
Every certified establishment or individual offering accommodations, services, and/or activities, must be in possession of a valid certificate, indicating COVID-19 protocol training.
Air passengers will not need to get tested and show a negative COVID-19 test result, nor show documentation of recovery from COVID-19, prior to boarding a flight to the United States, regardless of vaccination status or citizenship.
“I hope everyone is super stoked about the recent news that we do not have to test anymore to get back into the U.S.A.,” said Amanda Bisack, the founder of Travelista Travels in New York. “I know that has been game-changing for myself and my clients.”
But even before the testing mandate was lifted, Bisack and her clients were traveling to Antigua with little to complain about.
“I actually went to Antigua in June of 2021,” she said, “and other than the island having curfews, which was kind of annoying, but understandable, I really didn’t see a huge change from the last time I was there.
“Antigua is a calmer, chill, and more spread-out island, so visiting during COVID really didn’t seem that much different to me,” Bisack continued. “They did put a hold on their Shirley Heights party, which was a bummer to miss, but I am happy to say that the party is back on and better than ever.”
Terrah Van Meter, an advisor with Legacy Travel in Dallas, was also sending clients to Antigua long before this year.
“I was sending a lot of couples to Antigua during COVID because they were gladly welcoming Americans,” she said, “and it was easy for Americans to travel there unlike most of the world at the time.”
So, what type of accommodations are clients now looking for in Antigua during a time when privacy and social distancing are more important than ever before?
“The most recent client we sent to Antigua stayed in a villa, and that seems like the best way to go for the luxury clients because of the level of privacy, control, and access to the beach as needed,” said Scott. “It was not a hassle to book the destination, and I expect that would be the case for most other luxury travel advisors.”
Agents should note, however, that the CDC’s order requiring proof of vaccination for noncitizen nonimmigrants to travel to the United States is still in effect.
Arriving passengers to Antigua are not required to be fully vaccinated to enter Antigua and Barbuda, but will have to show proof of a negative COVID test if they are not vaccinated.
Fully vaccinated arriving passengers are not required to present a PCR/rapid antigen test negative result to be permitted entry into the country.
For excursions, proof of vaccination may be required depending on the excursion. Advisors should check with the excursion operator before the client’s trip.
Unvaccinated minors between the ages of five and 18 years old must present a negative certified RT-PCR result taken no more than three days or a rapid antigen test taken no more than 24 hours prior to arrival in Antigua and Barbuda.
Unvaccinated minors who are not staying at a certified resort/accommodation may be required to quarantine at home for a period of 10 to 14 days. Children below the age of five entering Antigua and Barbuda do not require a COVID-19 RT-PCR test.
Clients traveling from Antigua & Barbuda to countries that require a negative COVID-19 RT-PCR test result or antigen test be shown on arrival can arrange to have the RT-PCR test or antigen test performed at the Mount St. John’s Medical Centre (MSJMC).
Hotels also offer the RT-PCR Test and the rapid antigen test. Agents should note that this varies by hotel.
Hotels offering the test at the property include Carlisle Bay Resort, Cocobay Resort, Curtain Bluff Resort, Galley Bay Resort & Spa, Hammock Cove, Jumby Bay Island, Hermitage Bay, and more.
Although the price and time before the results are ready vary among hotels, Hermitage Bay’s rapid test cost is $124 per person, and the turnaround time is roughly 45 minutes, said Van Meter.
“The key thoughts from customers have been that the island's beauty and safety were paramount to why they wanted to travel there,” said Scott. “It's seen as a safe destination to travel to, and not a standard option that everyone has been to.”
New Boutique Opening in December
A new 49-suite boutique hotel, Moon Gate Antigua, which is being billed as a “barefoot-chic resort,” is slated to open in December.
The all-inclusive hotel includes a spa, 28 standard suites, 14 premium suites with a plunge pool and seven one-bedroom penthouse suites with a plunge pool.
All of the hotel’s suites offer freehold title and optional rental pool inclusion for all property owners. Property owners have access to the same wide range of amenities as hotel guests do.