Antigua and Barbuda’s azure waters, warm temperatures and friendly faces have for years lured vacationers to the twin-island paradise, located in the Caribbean.
So when a global pandemic strikes, curtailing travel, and introducing ‘social distancing’ and ‘shelter at home’ policies that made Antigua and Barbuda vacations a dream deferred, sending the country’s main industry – tourism — into a tailspin, tourism businesses showed their resilience. Here are five positive stories of tourism businesses that got creative in Antigua and Barbuda as a result of COVID-19.
Eli Fuller has been exploring Antigua’s north-coast and off-shore islands all his life. He grew up swimming, snorkeling and boating within the North Sound area, so when in 1999, the opportunity came for him to open an eco-tour excursion company, that would allow him to take visitors out to his childhood playground, he jumped at the chance. And Adventure Antigua was formed.
Fuller says, when he started the company, “it was with a little tiny boat taking four people out on snorkelling site-seeing tours.”
The company has grown since then and gained quite a reputation. “People come to Antigua and Barbuda on holiday and they have a fun holiday, but when we take them out, and they tell us that it was the highlight of their vacation, it makes us really happy, because we feel like we’ve accomplished something, and we’ve done what we’ve set out to do.”
Fuller has been keenly following developments surrounding Covid-19; when news of the novel coronavirus started getting closer to home, he decided to find an alternative means of providing employment for his crew members, one that would ensure their families were fed. And so, with lockdowns looming, the Adventure Antigua Farm was conceptualized.
“We decided at the beginning of March, long before the lockdown, that the Adventure Antigua team needed to make sure that our boats had up-to-date commercial fishing licences, and to make sure that some of our crew members who liked fishing had their commercial fishing licences. It was critical that we could legally go out and catch fish both during the lockdowns, and during the period of time when tourists weren’t here. We ordered a bunch of fishing equipment from the USA, to make sure that we could target various species in a sustainable manner. We also invested in purchasing topsoil and seedlings and lumber to make boxes for vegetable gardens, and we started a little farm on a 1/4 acre of land. The Adventure Antigua snorkelers and captains and sight-seeing tour guides helped create the farm, and we still have a skeleton crew coming to work and maintaining the farm.
Today, the Adventure Antigua Farm grows a huge variety of crops for sale, which include cucumbers, pumpkin, cassava, sweet potato, yams, peas, beans, okra, some herbs, peppers, finger rolls, plantain, banana, avocado, guineps, mangos, beets, onions and tomatoes. And of course, there’s also fresh fish available for purchase.
Fuller notes that the response from the community has really been positive, with the Adventure Antigua farm inspiring others to create gardens of their own. And, while we don’t know how long this crisis will last, “my company is going to be ready when the day comes that we reopen borders and welcome guests back to Antigua and Barbuda. And when they come, we are going to be serving food that either we catch or that we grow.”
TIMMY TIME COCKTAILS
An old-fashioned rum punch, margaritas, mojitos, piña coladas and daiquiris are just some of the refreshing tropical vacation drinks that award-winning mixologist Daniel ‘Timmy’ Thomas is used to mixing up for beach-goers and visitors turned friends at a beach bar along Antigua’s North Coast.
While the bars may be closed, with no tourists sipping piña coladas in sight, that has not stopped Thomas from shaking up some of his most requested drinks and serving them up to the local market.
“While I wait for guests to return, I’m doing my own stuff, ‘Timmy Time Cocktails’. Not just cocktails, but great cocktails from a top mixologist on island”, says Thomas.
And with all orders of Timmy Time Cocktails coming with free island-wide delivery, Thomas has gained quite a following.
His cocktails come highly recommended, and while they may not be able to end their day sipping drinks at one of Antigua and Barbuda’s 365 beaches, Timmy Time Cocktails are still bringing a bit of paradise to customers stuck at home in lockdown.
WALLINGS NATURE RESERVE
Wallings Nature Reserve is a 1,680 acre protected rainforest in Antigua that offers a hiking, birding and nature experience. While the forest has always been a popular hiking area, the location got a boost when a little over a year ago, nature-lover Refica Attwood and a group of like-minded individuals from the John Hughes community, where the nature reserve is located, got together to revive the area as part of a community tourism project.
Described as a go-getter, Attwood has been known to take to the hills with chainsaw and weed whacker in hand, clearing trails to ensure ease of access for hikers. This is not unusual for the Wallings Nature Reserve Executive Director, who has also for the last four years, operated RA Events which offers logging services for fishermen and farmers.
Ask Attwood what she likes best about her job, and she will tell you, “I can be myself and do what I really love!!”
Wallings Nature Reserve has been on a go slow since the beginning of March, but Attwood maintains that she and the team have been using the time to do some much needed upgrades. These include putting in place amenities such as a restroom for the physically challenged, an administration building, a museum and gift shop. They are also clearing out trails, adding additional signage, and preparing the reservoir.
To our visitors past and present, we are taking the time to ready ourselves and look forward to seeing you trekking with us again.
In the meantime, you can also catch Refica making a batch of guava cheese for sale, or out logging within the hills of the rainforest.
VILLAS AT SUNSET LANE
Jacqueline Thomas has been a small hotelier for the past 10 years, since opening the Villas at Sunset Lane, and has always enjoyed sharing her Caribbean culture, especially around Caribbean cuisine with her guests.
“It is always a pleasure to get a request from a guest asking to share a particular recipe that they truly enjoyed”, she says.
So it came as a natural option, that while there are no guests, but fixed costs of the hotel still to be met, to launch VSL’s Home Cooking and Home delivery services.
“We have decided to develop a simple lunch menu to meet what we believe is a growing demand since many people do not want to or cannot leave their residences for fear of the virus. On the other hand, some individuals simply cannot cook or dislike cooking and as a result, are looking for some respite.“
Thomas is mindful of the possibility that this first step may lead to the development of a catering business for small to medium size events.
But by no means is she quitting the accommodation business. Her message to future visitors, “We are doing all we can to think of ways to transform our facility based on the recommended health guidelines. It is critical to us that we allay your fears and gain your trust, giving you the assurance that you will be safe when you visit us again. We miss you and look forward to welcoming you back in the future.”
“I love working with people and I love food; this is the best of both worlds. I get to meet people and exchange ideas about food while cooking,” says a bubbly Nicole Arthurton from Nicole’s Table, who offers hands-on Caribbean cooking classes.
As of this month, she will be doing Instagram Live cooking shows.
“This year we had a large number of returning guests so we are trying to keep Nicole’s Table top of mind for all of them. We are staying visible on social media and communicating with past guests, cancelled guests and future guests. We post pictures and we’ve done a live cooking show on Instagram.”
She’s now researching and laying out plans to do more Instagram shows, with the next set of shows scheduled to start in about two weeks.
“Besides that, I’m tinkering in the garden trying to expand from just herbs to a range of vegetables that will grow well together… I’m crossing my fingers that all my plans will pay off.”
She’s also giving tips to other local tour operators. “Be creative now no matter how bad things look for you. Don’t go outside the box; break it! Adam and I are doing a lot of experimenting right now, trying to figure out new ways we can make our business. Things are very tight, but that Instagram show I did the other day was just the first piece of our new approach to building our brand.”