Press Release from the Office of Chairperson Ms. Donna A. Banks
As Chairperson of the Anguilla Tourist Board I take this opportunity to comment on what I can only call an erroneous, irresponsible document circulated on social media on October 26, 2016, and designed as an attack on the Anguilla Tourist Board (ATB) as an organization and on me personally as the Chairperson. The document, being circulated as a press release, was captioned “Massive Shakeup at the Anguilla Tourist Board” and purported to report on staff changes and other operations at the Board as being factual and as an indictment of me as the Chairperson. This is not the first time that the Anguilla Tourist Board and myself as the Chairperson have been the focus of anonymous attacks, but this is the first time that I will be making an official statement because I consider it a travesty and a disservice to allow this misinformation and denigration of the Anguilla Tourist Board to misguide and misinform both the local and international community.
On accepting the appointment of Chairperson of the Anguilla Tourist Board, and with the general knowledge that all of us residing on Anguilla as outsiders were privy to in terms of the years of chaotic relations internally between management and staff, between Board members, and between the Board and the Ministry of Tourism; the low level of respect for the Anguilla Tourist Board from its private sector partners; and after attending CTO Tourism Week in New York, June 2015, I resolved that my immediate goals as Chairperson would be:
a. Restoration of a harmonious relationship between the Ministry and the Board;
b. Rebuilding the morale of the staff of the Board and infusing them with the passion for the industry and their jobs necessary to propel the organization forward;
c. Restoration of the confidence of our private sector partners in the ATB;
d. Restoration of Anguilla’s image as the Caribbean’s premiere tourism destination; and
e. Provide effective leadership for a unified Board that would be sufficiently professional to disagree civilly and even harmoniously; a Board of equals who are passionate about Anguilla and its success as a tourism destination.
A tall order; yet a doable challenge!
On assuming our role as the Board of Directors we established, based on the official records of the Anguilla Tourist Board, the Ministry of Tourism, the Attorney General’s Chambers and the Executive Council, that staffing issues at the Anguilla Tourist Board predated May 28, 2015 when we, the current Board, took office, and that we would have to fix them if we were to attain any success. Out of respect for and in the interest of protecting past and present members of staff, as well as Members of the Board of Directors appointed on May 28, 2016, no comments will be made at this time with regards to resignations and employees on administrative leave.
Neither will I comment on the lies and vicious attacks against my children aimed at poisoning the local community’s mind against them and their entrepreneurial efforts on Anguilla. Suffice it to say that these children were taught at an early age the difference between hard work and handouts; and merit versus entitlement.
The current Board of Directors, on assuming office, was confronted by the fact that the productivity of the organization had been severely impacted over the preceding five years, and whilst the ATB had been faltering and floundering during that time, significant changes and advancements in the products of other destinations had developed. The way the travel industry communicated/marketed the value of their respective products in the Global Marketplace had also changed, and if the Anguilla Tourist Board was to remain relevant and fulfill its mandate to be a destination management and marketing organization, significant changes in the way business was being done had to be made.
As a Destination Management and Marketing Organization, the duties of the Board as per the Anguilla Tourist Board Act can be summarized in the following categories:
1. Advising the Minister
2. Regulatory function in terms of tourist resorts and tourist services
5. Access and facilitation of visitors to Anguilla
6. Product Development
7. Community Outreach
8. Encouragement and development of tourist travel
The ATB has primarily concentrated on fulfilling its marketing mandate (focusing on international tourist arrivals), subject to many constraints and realizing less than desired successes; and has been doing little in terms of destination management and managing the “Anguilla Experience”. In the recent years preceding May 2015, Anguilla has been single minded in competing against itself because of debate over a tagline and “territorial wrangling” with insufficient focus on the essence of the “Anguilla Experience”, and thereby ensuring that this “Experience” surpassed the guests’ expectations. As a consequence the island lost market share.
The current Board of Directors understands that a tagline is not the product but is more of a connector of the audience to the Brand, and surmises what the product, service or experience represents. We therefore made an early decision to concentrate on clearly articulating and defining Brand Anguilla and communicating that message to our markets. Our focus must now be on ensuring that we deliver on the promises we make, and we will only be able to do that by having the best organizational structure and staff to get the job done.
Anguilla’s overseas representatives are charged with the responsibility of effectively managing the message that is communicated about Anguilla, and providing us with market intelligence in terms of our competitors, customers, trends, the performance of their respective economies and other factors that influence tourist travel. They also serve as the destination’s sales team. To this end, the Board in September 2015 reinstituted on-island marketing meetings which for the first time in five years brought together all of its overseas representatives in one place, for one week, to rebuild its in-market team, as well as to discuss and plan for, the overall marketing of Anguilla.
In spite of the many challenges facing the industry, be it ZIKA, Access, visa restrictions, product issues or 2016 being a US Presidential year, and the ATB’s own impediments in terms of organizational structure, policies and procedures, staffing and budgets, the Anguilla Tourist Board with its declaration to its markets that “Anguilla is back” has been able to celebrate an increase in tourist arrivals (persons staying one night or more) in each of the three quarters for 2016: Quarter #1 (January to March) showed a 9.4% increase; Quarter#2 (April to June) showed a 4.7% increase and Quarter #3 (July to September) showed a 12.1% increase. It was noted that April and August of this year both showed declines in tourist arrivals. April showed a decline of 4.3% that was countered in the previous month by an above average increase of 12.2% in March, as a result of an “early” Easter. The placement of Easter on the annual calendar is a factor that is accounted for in any analysis of tourist arrivals figures.
August 2016 saw a 6.1% decline, which was due primarily to the decline in tourist arrivals from the French West Indies and the Caribbean region. Tourist arrivals from the French West Indies declined by 51.5% and the Caribbean declined by 25.1%; these significant declines which may be as a result of a number of factors including regional transportation issues, visa requirements and other transiting issues over our hub, require further analysis and investigation, and highlight the importance of in-house data analysis to enable the Board to make more informed product and marketing decisions.
Since the 1980’s the official tourist organization has not given focused attention on attracting day trippers/ excursionists from St. Maarten/St. Martin to Anguilla, and the annual excursionists arrivals have increased in the absence of any focused attention by the Board. The consistent fall-off in excursionist arrivals in 2016 requires further analysis to understand this very unusual phenomenon. St. Maarten is the primary source market for Excursionists and to understand the consistent decline in excursionist arrivals for 2016 will require an intelligent analysis of what is happening in that market in terms of its long stay visitors as well as its cruise business. In addition, product issues will have to be examined and addressed.
In 2017, the Anguilla Tourist Board must therefore put in place a strategy to attract more excursionists to Anguilla for the day as these visitors represent an important market for our beach bars and restaurants, as well as an invaluable source of revenue to both the Government, the Anguilla Air and Sea Ports Authority, and taxi and tour companies. These visitors are also a great potential market to convert into longer stay visitors to Anguilla.
Because Excursionists are the larger portion of the total visitor arrivals figure (made up of excursionists and tourists), a decline in their numbers is not easily offset by the increase in tourist arrivals, and therefore the total visitor arrivals have continued to show continuous declines during 2016, even though the island’s tourist arrivals have been increasing for each of the three quarters of 2016.
As is the case in all destinations where they are present, AirBnB has been having a negative impact on the performance of the established tourist accommodations on Anguilla as well as on government revenues. Many AirBnB properties are not officially registered tourist accommodations and therefore, even as tourist arrivals to the island increase, established properties have at times indicated that their numbers do not reflect this. AirBnB is a phenomenon that is here to stay and it is incumbent upon the Government to ensure that the necessary regulations are put in place to ensure that the Anguilla Experience is not compromised by these properties and that the Government of Anguilla collects its fair share of revenue.
The Anguilla Tourist Board is presently short staffed in terms of number and proficiency of the team. There are not enough hands on deck to accomplish the mandate and organizational goals of the Board. Moreover, there are some members of the team that do not have the capacity to function with the expertise that the job requires to produce the results Anguilla needs to increase visitor arrivals. There is need for the development of a multi-talented management team of experienced and creative individuals with the intellectual capacity to make a meaningful contribution to the organization. The goal is to use the team to increase productivity of the organization to raise the profile of the agency on the island and in the market place.
The Anguilla Tourist Board with its current structure could not fulfill its mandate. In November 2015, the road to transformation and the restructuring of the Anguilla Tourist Board began with an Organizational Review with “the aim to make the organization more efficient and relevant in the fast changing environment that tourism finds itself in today”. The Organizational Review and Industry Seminars were conducted by Mr. Christopher Khoo, CEO of MasterConsult Services, a specialist tourism consulting company based in Singapore, a destination known for pioneering best practices in the industry. Mr. Khoo’s findings and recommendations were articulated in a Report to the Anguilla Tourist Board and covered three main areas: (a) Anguilla Tourist Board; (b) Anguilla Tourism Industry Development; and (c) Tourism Product Development in Anguilla.
The process has continued with the services of SER under the leadership of Mr. Stanley Reid, an eminently qualified Anguillian consultant with experience in human resources management and organizational development, having served as Crown Counsel in the Attorney General’s Chambers, Permanent Secretary, Public Administration and Deputy Governor. This phase of the Restructuring exercise is intended to create an organizational structure that ensures relevance; increases productivity and efficiency; and provides the best opportunity for the community and other investors to be a part of a robust tourism industry. The work being undertaken by SER includes the following:
1. Finalization of the ATB’s Draft Employee Handbook which has been in draft for over eight years.
2. Formulate Job Descriptions, Reporting Structures and Salary Scales for each post identified as being necessary for the Board to fulfill its mandate.
3. Facilitate two Retreats for ATB and Ministry of Tourism personnel as well as key strategic partners to examine and discuss the Anguilla Tourist Board Act, the Declaration of Tourism Services and the Sustainable Tourism Master Plan.
The first Retreat looking at the Anguilla Tourist Board Act and the Declaration of Tourism Services took place on October 19, 2016 and included members of staff from the Ministry of Tourism, members of the Board of Directors of the ATB as well as strategic partners including the Royal Anguilla Police Force, the Anguilla Air and Sea Ports Authority and the Environmental Unit. The second Retreat focusing on the Sustainable Tourism Master Plan is scheduled for November 9, 2016.
The strategy of the Board for 2016/2017 is to transform the ATB into a productive profit center for Brand Anguilla which will be accomplished by achieving three key objectives, namely:
1. Develop a competent management team at the ATB as well as training and development of support staff;
2. Implement a definitive vision and strategy for the organization locally and internationally with measurable goals and benchmarks; preparation of a Business Plan and a Marketing Plan are considered central to this; and
3. Create synergy across the Anguilla Tourism Brand.
Our vision is to create a renewed sense of responsibility and pride for Tourism and Brand Anguilla. Our goal is to reposition the Anguilla Tourist Board as a melting pot where intellectuals and creative minds come together to create the best Tourism Brand in the World.
Good Governance and Finances
The current Board of Directors has continued to ensure that there is transparency in its operations as it undertakes its fiduciary responsibilities, whilst ensuring that it retains the most competent providers for the services it requires. This Board, at its first meeting in June 2015, established a 2/3 attendance of members to constitute a quorum, and no decisions of the Board are taken by less than 2/3 of the membership. The Board continues to be vigilant as it supports local industry, ensuring that its brand is aligned with reputable and established brands that bring value to the relationship and positively impact the diversification of the Anguilla product.
The Anguilla Tourist Board is the only statutory body that has consistently had annual audits carried out and as of October 27, 2016, the 2015 Audit for the Anguilla Tourist Board is being carried out by its external auditors with a view to completion by November 30, 2016. The Public Accounts Committee in its September 2016 hearings did not select the Anguilla Tourist Board to present itself for examination, and the Anguilla Tourist Board welcomes the opportunity, if so required, to come before this Committee.
The Anguilla Tourist Board sees a hearing before the Public Accounts Committee as the perfect opportunity, along with the work of its auditors, to bring closure to a number of outstanding issues with regards to a contract issued by the Ministry of Tourism in 2013 to the Britto Agency of New York.
Subsequent to the signing of this contract, large sums of money approved for the Anguilla Tourist Board were used to support projects outside the approved scope of work, some of which have not been accounted for, with no report on how these public funds were spent, or deliverables to substantiate that the projects was undertaken. There are some projects for which funds were paid and to the best of our knowledge have never been executed.
An audience with the Public Accounts Committee is needed to ensure that refunds (as a result of overpayments made by the Anguilla Tourist Board and the Ministry of Tourism under the AUM Administration), which have already been requested from the Britto Agency, are eventually received by the Anguilla Tourist Board to recover government’s funds to invest in programmes that can increase visitor arrivals to the island.
Anguilla is Back! And the Anguilla Tourist Board with a dynamic and competent team both locally and in the market place, is committed to ensuring that we build on our strengths, continue to eliminate our weaknesses and engage the local community, investors and other strategic partners so that together we can create and deliver to our guests, an experience that continues to beckon them back to Anguilla……. again and again.
There is work to be done! Revitalizing the tourism industry in Anguilla to make it competitive with the rest of the region and the world will call for a collaborative effort between all stakeholders and partners, government, the community and the private sector. We have a number of wonderful new resort developments opening this winter that will enhance our tourism product offering. We also anticipate that the presence of the prestigious Four Seasons brand, with its extensive global database of loyal clients, will raise the profile of our destination, and help us increase our tourist arrivals this winter.
At the Anguilla Tourist Board we are committed to working with every willing partner that is passionate about developing a strong and sustainable industry in Anguilla. We are all hosts and ambassadors in this industry, so let us work together to create a resurgence of excitement, enthusiasm, passion and commitment for this industry and the island that will say to ourguests “Welcome to my Anguilla!”