Antigua and Barbuda’s tourism chiefs have welcomed the launch of British Airways’ direct Heathrow service, which has resumed after a break of 30 years.
The inaugural flight landed at VC Bird International Airport last week (July 21), marking the start of a twice-weekly service on Wednesdays and Saturdays, and joining Virgin Atlantic’s thrice-weekly flights from Heathrow.
BA has also increased its direct service from Gatwick to the island to seven flights a week, meaning the airline now offers nine flights a week to the island.
Charles Fernandez, minister of tourism and investment, told Travel Weekly: “We’ve been fighting to get a BA flight out of Heathrow for 30 years, so this is a really big moment for us.
“It’s a positive sign that we’re growing, and the fact this is happening now, in spite of the challenges facing us, shows there’s still a lot of confidence in the destination.”
Colin James, chief executive of the Antigua and Barbuda Tourism Authority, said growing demand for the destination had driven the decision to launch the new service.
Transport secretary Grant Shapps announced on June 24 that Antigua and Barbuda – along with several other destinations – would move onto the British government’s green list of destinations on June 30.
“The day after the green list announcement came out, searches and bookings for Antigua rose by about 200%,” James said.
“BA were already planning on launching the flight from Heathrow because they were seeing the demand grow over the years, but once we came out with the green list, the bookings just went straight up.
“In addition to that, before Covid, we had a direct Condor flight from Frankfurt and a direct flight from Milan with Blue Panorama Airlines.
“But with those not being restarted yet, there’s a demand for Europeans who can now fly via Heathrow and be there the same day.”
James said that despite ongoing challenges, June this year saw a record number of international visitors with more tourists coming in summer than pre-Covid – in part driven by the US market.
“Normally summer would be our slow period, but this year the cyclicality that we normally see has been flipped on its head, so you’ll find that now, summer is showing almost the demand that we’d see in winter,” he said.
“People have been locked up for so long they just want to get away.
“We have also seen a switch for British visitors from red and amber list destinations, such as the Dominican Republic and Mexico, to Antigua, because right now safety is the top concern for travellers.”
James said the UK remained Antigua’s second-biggest market after the US, despite a fall from about 80,000 British visitors a year to about 5,000 so far this year.