Tourism Minister Asot Michael has responded to allegations in a media statement issued by the leader of the United Progressive Party (UPP), Harold Lovell. Minister Michael’s statement follows:
Harold Lovell’s statement is both misleading and mischievous, but it is fully consistent with the Machiavellian tactics that the UPP used in ten years of failed governance of Antigua and Barbuda. We should all recall that Lovell held the portfolio of Tourism Minister throughout the period of the industry’s worst decline. So much so that Baldwin Spencer had to take away the portfolio. He did worse as Minister of Finance, plunging the economy into disaster, racking up enormous unpaid debt, and depriving the people of Antigua and Barbuda of employment and money.
With specific reference to the allegations he made:
First, the performance of tourism in the economy and in the provision of income to the industry and jobs for the people is measured as much by the amount of money that is earned as by the numbers of visitors. While there has been a decline in visitors up to the end of June this year over last year, the revenue from the ABST 2% tax received by the Tourism Authority increased from EC$4.8 million to EC$5.5 million. It stands to reason, by simple arithmetic, that the government revenues from the remaining 10% of the ABST would also have increased and so too would have the income to the private sector, including hotels and resorts.
Therefore, neither the hotels nor their employees have lost income.
Second, in calling for “consultation with stakeholders”, Lovell knew that such a consultation is scheduled for July 21st. His purpose was to try to fool the public that the consultation is being held at his urging. That is the cheap trickery for which he is well-known.
Third, while the figures he has proffered on visitor arrivals were issued by my Ministry because we have nothing to hide, he deliberately neglected to mention that the numbers from Italy had increased by 21% over last year.
Fourth, while the overall numbers up to June 2017 have declined over the equivalent period in 2016, it is important to note that the 2016 performance was far better than the years of the UPP maladministration. For instance, the US market produced more than 100,000 visitors in 2016 for the first time since inception. In this regard, Lovell has a gall to criticize a blip in the high numbers of tourists under the ABLP when his own performance devastated an industry that had to be painstakingly rebuilt.
Fifth, by the end of 2017, my Ministry fully expects to exceed the number of arrivals and revenues over 2016. We have put in place strategies for dealing with global events that are affecting tourism. For example, there will significant increases in airlift from our Canadian, European and markets.
Sixth, Lovell deliberately and maliciously did not record in his media statement that Cruise Executives of all International Lines welcomed major expansion and maintenance work that our Labour Government carried out in St. John’s Harbour and at the Heritage Cruise Pier. That was a feat that Lovell had himself promised but failed to achieve in his entire ten years in office.
Lovell’s purpose is to alarm tourism workers and shake confidence in the industry. It is a political purpose; not a nationalistic or patriotic one. Harold Lovell does not put Antiguan and Barbuda first, he puts Harold Lovell first. The people of Antigua and Barbuda should rest assured that my Ministry is working in the interest of the nation, and will not be sidetracked by political failures and opportunists.