Antigua seeks to improve passenger experience with new terminal

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ANTIGUA: The Caribbean tourism market is a competitive one and the twin island nation of Antigua and Barbuda takes a large step forward in that battle this week, inaugurating operation of the new passenger terminal at V.C. Bird International Airport. It is a significant upgrade from the 30-plus year old terminal being replaced, significantly larger and offering improved passenger amenities throughout the travel experience. Questions remain, however, about just how successful the overall growth push – spearheaded by this new terminal – will be.

Tourism Board CEO Colin James sees the new airport terminal as the cornerstone of a plan for significant growth in Antigua and Barbuda’s economy:

“We basically outlived the old facility. We have to ensure that as we take our industry forward we create a first class passenger experience. Having a facility which can process passengers in quick time with all the modern amenities that today’s discerning traveler needs is absolutely critical to the success of Antigua and Barbuda’s tourism industry. It is all about the experience.”

That experience includes 13 gates, up from the current four. And four of the gates offer an air conditioned jet bridge for boarding rather than a walk across the apron. Passengers will also benefit from more immigration and security positions in the new terminal and a modernized baggage handling system. Premium passengers will be able to access a much improved lounge facility that includes sweeping views of the airfield and the sea beyond from air conditioned comfort or an outdoor deck.

IMG_5995Other passenger amenities in the terminal may not be quite as modern, unfortunately. Travelers undoubtedly want power for their many PEDs, especially before embarking on a flight which can easily be 3+ hours to the USA or 8+ to Europe. The new terminal offers only eight locations with accessible outlets; each location has only a few plugs. This is a shortcoming that the terminal’s chief architect acknowledged when RGN visited the new facility late last week, but it’s unclear if its one that will be fix in the short term.

Funding for the power stations is provided through advertising on billboards above the equipped seats and, for now, that advertising space is still unsold. Similarly, a number of the concessions locations are unfinished or have not been allocated. The terminal is commencing operations with temporary dining facilities and only a quarter of the retail shops occupied.

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The old terminal handles approximately 800,000 passengers annually, of which 250,000 stay in Antigua rather than connecting onward. The new terminal is designed to handle more than double that passenger capacity. Doing so will require some of the new flights to use less preferred departure times or the hard stand locations. The current peak schedule already sees four large aircraft at the terminal on a regular basis. Moreover, the rest of the tourism infrastructure on the islands will need upgrades to keep pace with that plan.

James expects to see the number of hotel rooms on the island double in the next 18-24 months, much of that in the form of new, larger properties. He acknowledges that this will change the on-island experience for many of his new guests but suggests that it is a necessary change to support the country’s growth ambitions.

And then there is the question of the airport cost. It is a nearly $100 million project, funded and financed in partnership with the Chinese government. This took the form of a construction loan at well below commercial market rates but that is still a significant debt to be repaid. Landing fees for aircraft are not changing nor are the passenger departure taxes being charged.

To meet the debt obligations it will be necessary for the passenger numbers to expand into the extra capacity. It is a big gamble for the small island nation, but one the country must win; as James noted, “[Tourism] is our life blood.”

See more photos of the new terminal below.

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6 Comments

  1. Pingback: A few days in Antigua - Wandering Aramean

  2. Michelle

    I have been reliably informed that ALL advertising has been sold in the airport. Sadly interspace (a foreign company) has been given all the ad space in the airport. A service that could have been locally procured and one that generates substantial revenues that leave Antigua never to be seen again. Not event the sales reps are local.

    Regarding the comment about the white seats, the assumption is that people who are traveling executive class are cleaner than those who are not. The photo is of the executive lounge.

    The comment “Other passenger amenities in the terminal may not be quite as modern, unfortunately” is unclear, the terminal is one of the most most modern in the Caribbean, and certainly in the OECS. The pet waiting area, and smoking room was not even mentioned, nor was the new baggage handling system.

    Although there were some interesting insights, sadly this article didn’t mention some of the best highlights of our new airport. Please come again.

  3. John Poole

    No exec lounge or smoking rooms on 15th October and very limited facilities for departing passengers on the BA flight

  4. Pingback: Friday Flyday: Landing at Antigua on American Airlines - Wandering Aramean

  5. Ms P

    I recerntly visited Antigua and must say that the new airport is worthy of international consideration and adds to the travellers experience to the Island. Te facilities are modern especially the toilets. The self flushing means that sometimes remnants of waste are left around the bowl.
    Dear Mr James,

    I recognise that small Islands have to borrow money to modernise and expand, but the influence of the Chinese on the Caribbean is alarming. The influence of the Chinese is scary , and it is being done so subtly that the government is sleep walking into a situation whereby in 30-40 years time the influence of indigenous Antiguans who are of African heritage will be non existent. The marking of Chinese writing on the central plague at the airport is vexatious to me and a sign of territory by the Chinese.

    The service of the staff is very hit and miss. I asked a member of checking in staff where the Virgin Staff were and she as very unhelpful to the point that when I left she sniggered about me to a colleague loud enough for me and the passengers she was serving to hear. This behaviour is unacceptable and unprofessional. If comments are to be made, they should be made outside the earshot of the public. In addition I feel that all staff should be asked to eat their lunch- which is usually cooked food, out of the view of the public using the facility. It was very unprofessional to see members of staff eating cooked food out of containers behind the desk in a manner that should be reserved for a private place. Al parts of the airport staff, be they airline staff or the baggage handlers can be seen eating their lunch. They should all be given a proper lunch break which enables them to leave their station and eat their lunch with colleagues or on their own away from the public eye. The odd biscuit or piece of chocolate is fine , but not highly spiced , aromatic cooked food. This behaviour lowers the tone of the international airport.

    Finally, I would like to state that one of the information staff Ms Sebastian is a credit to your organisation. She proved to be extremely helpful on the days I arrived at the airport to enquire of some lost property and showed concern. On the day that i was leaving, I approached her and she remembered who i was and asked how I fared with my query. She was empathetic, honest and apologetic in the right doses. Her customer care skills are excellent and is an example for others to follow. In addition she is very well turned out for work and has an excellent professional approach. She was not one of those eating carelessly behind the desk.

    In general the airport experience is positive, but with some basic training it can get better and staff achieve excellence when discharging their duties.

    Kind regards,

    Ms P