Antigua and Barbuda’s aggressive tourism expansion push in 2015 is continuing with the August launch of a new 247,569-square-foot terminal at V.C. Bird International Airport. The $100 million terminal addition and airport renovation doubles the previous facility’s capacity and sets the stage for its development as “an all-important airline hub and the largest gateway to the Eastern Caribbean,” according to tourism officials of the dual-island nation.
The new terminal features four jet bridges and a state-of-the-art baggage sorting and scanning system. Airport officials promise faster immigration processing times, and departing travelers will find 46 check-in counters and 15 self-check-in kiosks.
The airport’s departure lounge has been expanded as well, with more relaxation space, enhanced shopping and dining options, free Wi-Fi and internet and multiple passenger gates. Thirty new retail units feature international brands including Colombian Emeralds, DuFry, Café Britt, Café Player and Subway. Travelers with pets will find a convenient pet restroom.
The airport also offers three new lounges: a “VVIP” lounge, a VIP lounge and an airport executive lounge. The airport executive lounge features an outdoor balcony with views of Antigua’s Long Island and Maiden Island cays. Funded through a concessional loan from China’s Export-Import Bank (EXIM Bank), the newly renovated airport also features elevators, escalators and ramps designed to meet the needs of passengers requiring special assistance.
Asot Michael, Antigua’s minister of tourism, economic development, energy and investment described the new airport as “the largest single infrastructural investment in the development of our young nation,” which “will help ensure the bright and successful future of Antigua and Barbuda.”
Earlier this year, Antigua officials announced an “aggressive” program of new property developments and infrastructure improvements. The plan includes the airport expansion plus new resort developments highlighted by a $250 million Barbuda development backed by Academy Award-winning actor Robert DeNiro.
“We will transform Antigua and Barbuda into an economic powerhouse in the Caribbean by bringing significant investments into the country,” said Gaston Browne, Antigua and Barbuda’s prime minister, in June at a gathering for media at New York’s 21 Club restaurant.
The new facility’s debut coincides with JetBlue Airways’ new direct service between New York’s JFK International Airport and V.C. Bird airport, which begins Nov. 5. In December, Alitalia will begin weekly service to Antigua from Milan and Caribbean regional carrier Seaborne Airlines will begin direct service to Antigua from San Juan.
Antigua and Barbuda officials are seeking to re-energize the country’s modest tourist arrivals growth in recent years. The country hosted 249,316 overnight visitors in 2014, a 2.5 percent increase over 2013, according to Caribbean Tourism Organization (CTO) statistics. The country’s cruise ship arrivals were down slightly in 2014, totaling 522,342 compared with the 533,993 cruise passengers the destination hosted in 2013.