Haydn Hughes, Anguilla's minister of tourism, could not have painted a rosier picture for his Northern Caribbean island than he did in my recent interview with him.
"Festivals are back, new air service from Miami is a game-changer, the online entry form has been eliminated, construction is booming and the hotel scene is vibrant," he reported.
Haydn Hughes Photo Credit: Anguilla Tourism Board
The island reopened its borders in November 2020 with strict protocols that included a 14-day quarantine after arrival, later reduced to seven days. A brief outbreak in April 2021 shut it down for a month, but since then Anguilla has been open for business. More than 70% of residents are fully vaccinated, and "the marketing message 'Lose the Crowd, Find Yourself' resonates well with our type of visitor who knows we are a safe, secure, uncrowded destination," Hughes said.
Anguilla has no all-inclusive resorts, no mass tourism and prohibits unvaccinated travelers from entering.
"Our brand of tourism caters to a certain segment of travelers who don't mind the pre-arrival PCR or rapid test requirement because it assures a safe vacation stay," Hughes said, although he hinted that the PCR pre-entry requirement could be dropped at some point soon.
On the hotel scene, the minister cited the recent opening of the Aurora Anguilla Resort & Golf Club, formerly the Cuisinart resort.
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"The new owner took a good hotel and turned it into a magnificent hotel with an entertainment area, a waterpark and a redesigned golf course, which is now probably one of the top courses in the world," Hughes said.
'Great variety' of hotel choices
The upgraded Belmond Cap Juluca, Quintessence, the Four Seasons, the upgrades at Malliouhana, Zemi Beach House, the expansion at Frangipani, the new Alkera villa on Shoal Bay East and the numerous Airbnb accommodations "offer great variety and choices for the exclusive traveler in search of a luxury setting," according to Hughes.
The new nonstop American Airlines flight from Miami, first announced as twice-weekly, is now a daily, year-round offering, based on demand, and is an alternative to flying into St. Maarten and then taking the public ferry or private transfer to Anguilla.
Anguilla also has air service on Tradewind Aviation and Silver Airways from San Juan to Clayton J. Lloyd Airport, which has plans for a new airport terminal. Cape Air service from St. Thomas is set to resume in November.
The public ferry that links Blowing Point, Anguilla, with Marigot in French St. Martin will debut a new terminal in December.
The Anguilla Tourist Board recently launched a welcome service for visitors at both points of entry -- its airport and its ferry facility. Twice a month on the busiest arrival days, visitors are welcomed with refreshments and gift items, a collaborative effort with local stakeholders.
"We are constantly working to enhance our visitors' experience," Hughes said. "We're known for our hospitality, and we recognize the importance of ensuring that both the first and last impressions of our island are equally memorable."
Summer festival returning
Hughes reported that Anguilla's Summer Festival returns this year, a 10-day Caribbean Carnival from July 29 to Aug. 7.
"This has always been a top event here. Visitors come from all over, and those travelers staying in St. Maarten/Martin come in droves, as well. The last one took place in 2019, right before the peak of hurricane season, and then Covid shut us down in 2020 and 2021," he said.
Festival highlights include several boat races, including the all-day Poker Run event with up to 100 boats that make four stops around the island. Each stop features a lively beach party with music, entertainment and food and drinks.
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Other events on the festival schedule feature parades with costumed troupes, a kiddies' parade, street dancing, calypso competitions and the daybreak fete called Eyes Wide Shut at the beach at Sandy Ground village.