Tourism on the island of Antigua has suffered a dramatic downturn since the double murder of honeymooners Ben and Catherine Mullany, according to one of the Caribbean’s leading tourist associations.
The “significant cancellations” of hotel bookings across Antigua and Barbuda from UK tourists in just two months since the killings is already estimated to amount to $1m (Eastern Caribbean dollars), or the equivalent of more than £200,000.
Neil Forrester, general manager of the Antigua Hotel and Tourist Association, said tour operators were currently struggling through what he described as “a very difficult period”. The cancellations resulting from the high-profile publicity generated by the case have added to a decline caused by escalating fuel prices and the global economic slowdown.
Trainee physiotherapist Ben and his new wife Catherine, both 31 and from Pontardawe in the Swansea Valley, were fatally shot in a robbery at their seaside cottage on July 27 this year, while on their honeymoon at the island’s Cocos Bay resort.
Simon Calder, an experienced travel writer and presenter of BBC’s Travel Show, said the drastic effect on tourism was inevitable.
He said yesterday: “This was an appalling crime which has been a dreadful tragedy for the families of these two young people who had just married.
“And the consequences financially are going to be very serious for everyone involved in the tourism business in Antigua.
“For a place like Antigua that means just about everyone.
“I’m afraid there is little the island can do to rectify the situation as unfortunately for the next five or even 10 years it is going to be known as the ‘honeymoon murder island’.
“Ironically, Antigua is now likely to be much, much safer than it was, given the attention that is being given to ridding the island of violent crime.
“But this terrible crime will undoubtedly affect people’s choices and those who plan to spend a lot of money and use up their holiday time will want to go somewhere where they will feel comfortable.
“People in Britain and particularly in South Wales feel totally involved with the Mullany family because of the tragic way they died and they are likely to choose somewhere else when they go on holiday.”
Mr Forrester told reporters hotels were having little or no business to depend on. Reports in Antigua suggest “many” overseas operators have been experiencing cancellations from clients and the number of air passenger bookings to the island has fallen significantly.
He said: “A lot of things were put in place to try to prevent cancellations, like not waiving our penalties to cancel so as to try and get people to come.
“What we can’t estimate is how many people are not coming to Antigua because of that. People who haven’t yet booked decided to go to St Lucia because of what they saw.”
Last week, the island’s Minister of Tourism Harold Lovell travelled to the UK on a trade mission to continue efforts to sell Antigua and Barbuda as a safe holiday destination.
Mr Lovell said tourism operators in the UK have hired a public relations company to come up with a recovery plan. He explained that part of the plan would involve meetings with tour operators, travel agents and the media.
The tourism minister added that current hotel bookings “do not appear encouraging”.
The Mullanys were buried in a private ceremony at the church where they were married this summer, St John the Evangelist in Cilybebyll, near their Pontardawe home.
And earlier this month a memorial service for the pair was attended by almost 1,000 people including the Duchess of York at Llandaff Cathedral in Cardiff.
On Antigua, Keniel Martin, 20, and a youth aged 17 face charges of murdering the couple, robbery and receiving stolen goods.
Two women who have been bailed face charges of receiving stolen property and perverting the course of justice.
The families of the murdered couple have established a charity fund, the Catherine and Ben Mullany Memorial Fund, to raise money to help would-be medics.
A collection for the fund will take place at Swansea’s Liberty Stadium on Saturday before the Swansea City versus Wolves match.