Global Ports Holding has started running the cruise port in Antigua as it expands its reach in the Caribbean.

The deal to manage the port was made with the island’s government February with up to $50 million to be spent in the first year on a new pier and shops.

The world’s largest cruise port operator expects to bring “meaningful change to the cruise port experience and cruise tourism in Antigua and Barbuda”.

GPH plans to partner with local operators to enhance shore excursion opportunities and support local efforts to regenerate tourist attractions.

“By working in partnership with all stakeholders, we believe St John’s cruise port will act as a catalyst for meaningful economic growth in Antigua and Barbuda,” the company said.

St John’s cruise port in Antigua handled 800,000 passengers in 2018 with plans to raise annual numbers to more than one million a year in the medium term.

The company will finance the completion of the new pier that will be capable of berthing the largest 5,000-plus passenger ships.

The addition of St John’s cruise port to GPH’s portfolio is expected to increase its total passenger volumes for 2020 to almost 13 million.

It follows the company starting to operate Nassau cruise port in the Bahamas and a bid to run Puerto Rico port.

GPH CEO Emre Sayin said: “The commencement of this agreement is a significant milestone for GPH and is a further endorsement of our operating capabilities and the benefits that our stakeholder partnership approach can bring to cruise destinations, passengers and the local population.

“The addition of the cruise port operations in Antigua to GPH’s portfolio builds on the group’s recent success in the Caribbean.

“From a standing start just over a year ago, GPH’s Caribbean operations will soon be delivering as much ebitda [earnings] as its Mediterranean operations did in 2018.”