Anguilla is banking on infrastructure improvements to help its tourism industry. But that doesn't mean the island is changing its tourism strategy.
The island has traditionally shunned crowds of visitors -- it has no all-inclusives and is not a cruise ship destination -- and has opted instead to court a smaller number of guests from a wealthier demographic. And that game plan isn't changing. Rather, Anguilla tourism officials say they would like to see more of those desired guests visiting the island and believe the improvements at the ferry terminal and airport will help achieve that goal.
Last month, the island opened its new Blowing Point Ferry Terminal, moving from a temporary home that served as the island's main entry point since 2017's Hurricane Irma destroyed the island's former terminal. The terminal receives ferry service from St. Martin and private charter service from St. Maarten.
The new terminal plays a vital role in handling visitors. In September, the latest figures available by the government, 83% of all arrivals to Anguilla came by sea, and 91% of those visitors entered at the ferry terminal.
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"This administration made a commitment to significantly modernize Anguilla's infrastructure, for the benefit of both our visitors and importantly, our on-island community," said Haydn Hughes, minister of infrastructure, communications, housing, utilities and tourism for Anguilla. "The opening of the Blowing Point Ferry Terminal is yet another commitment fulfilled, along with the redesign of the Valley Main Road, the recent upgrades at the airport, and the development of the 20-year Airport Master Plan. We are at once enhancing the visitor experience and enhancing the lives of our local residents."
While sea arrivals have far outpaced air arrivals, the recent addition of nonstop commercial flights and private charters means there will be more visitors coming by air. The Clayton J. Lloyd Airport master plan's 20-year forecast states that, from 2022 through 2041, the island expects an annual increase of 11.5% in passengers arriving by air.
To accommodate the increased number of visitors, the government is adding a new terminal to the airport and afterwards will extend its runway. The extension is required for current commercial aircraft to operate with maximum passenger loads and to attract new operators and destinations as well as to accommodate larger aircraft.
"We believe we can double the number of arrivals into the island as access has been our biggest challenge," Hughes said. "Time is currency, and the length of time to arrive to our destination has proven to be consuming for many. The improved and expanded terminals will be able to facilitate larger commercial carriers from our most important gateways in North America and Canada. The increase in arrivals will not need an increase in room inventory, but what it will do is ensure that the levels of occupancy and economic activity remain consistent and sustainable."
Even with the airport improvements, Hughes doesn't see a shift in how visitors arrive. "We do not believe that [flights] will reduce the arrivals by ocean. Rather, it will increase the arrivals by air," Hughes said. "There is a certain charm that visitors also love arriving via ocean, and that will not go away."
It's not just the government that's spending money to attract visitors. The Aurora Anguilla Resort and Golf Club, one of the newest resorts on the island, offers nonstop charters from New York and Fort Lauderdale to Anguilla for its guests. The flights are operated by Best Jets International, which is owned, like the resort, by Best Buy founder Richard Schulze.
"[Anguilla] caters for those who have a taste for great five-star accommodations and excellent food," Hughes said. "But it is not a destination that is lower priced. Easier travel will not change the demographic, but it will allow those who value time to see the value in making a much shorter trip to paradise."