Antigua and Barbuda: Interview with Saiid Greene

Saiid Greene

CEO (Antigua Pier Group)

Saiid Greene

Antigua & Barbuda, as well as other countries in the region, is working to promote and attract foreign investment. What would you say are Antigua’s most significant competitive advantages compared to other countries in the region?

The stability of our elected government. We refer to Antigua as the peace zone of the world and that can really be applied to the entire Caribbean especially the English-speaking Caribbean.

Our unique advantage is that we are starting to pay more attention to our maritime advantage. Our coastal line is to die for and the evidence over the last decade is that the greatest spending by cruise passengers in the duty-free port is no longer at Rolex etc., it is for more natural, off road experiences. So people who are providing that type of service to our cruise guests have been the ones who have been experiencing the highest growth in the tourism sector. In the future, as climate change and global warming continue to be real issues, we need to mitigate against problems such as coastal erosion to ensure that we are not taken over by the rising seas.

Maritime is the history of Antigua & Barbuda. We are a maritime country and we are so close to other Caribbean islands such as St Kitts but we need to begin to link up the Caribbean with a maritime experience because that’s where we have failed. If we are going to build industries, we need to have the capacity to have water transportation to link ourselves as a region. But that hasn’t always been the history - a little over three decades ago, we used to have water transportation from Jamaica down to Guyana and Suriname.

Taking into consideration Antigua & Barbuda competitive advantages combined with the countries current strengths, which sectors do you believe offer the most attractive investment opportunities?

Firstly, energy. The Government of Antigua, in its manifesto “Greater Economy 2014”, articulated a vision that in the first five years we want to have a mix of renewable energy and reduce fossil fuels by 20%. Already we are up to 12.5% and as we begin to look at wind, solar and even thermal energy, we are realising that these are new opportunities and they sustain and stop the degradation of climate change and global warming. So our Group, as we partner with tour operators, want to have greater efficiencies around the country including greater garbage disposal, better signage etc. This year the Ministry of Health, in collaboration with our largest supermarkets and players, have introduced a ban on plastic bags. This proactive demonstration speaks to the government’s commitment to reducing our carbon footprint. We are looking for partners who can develop our biodegradable industry.

In agriculture, we have started a project to grow more organic fruits. We are looking for partners to help with the new technology and science. We are sending some of our young people to various universities around the world so we can have a special niche market for organic foods, which will help to improve our food security and nutrition.

Land tourism is another area that could benefit from investment and that is key to our Prime Minister’s plans to turn Antigua into an economic powerhouse. We need to preserve and pay more attention to flora and fauna because that’s what investors, our people and tourists want and need.

APG is working in partnership with the Government, the Antigua and Barbuda Cruise Tourism Association and the St. John’s Development Corporation to promote and generate cruise business in Antigua and Barbuda. What role do you play in this regard and what activities are in place?

We own the two piers so every cruise ship passenger that comes in to Antigua is my guest. I have just a little under 50 million dollars of investment. We are currently developing a sustained plan for growth not just in the winter season but also in the summer season, which is our Achilles heel. We are in communication with the cruise liners and they are telling us that we need to expand so we can accommodate the largest ships that are coming. We need to have a greater number of activities so people are excited about coming to your destination. The evidence is that half of our passenger load remains on board because there’s not enough to do. We are a lovely country with great history so we are working on creating more things of interest and assembling them in a real way. So for example, in the city of St Johns we have three historical churches. There are opportunities to have them properly marked with information, good handouts and tour guides. We have not integrated our curriculum. The theatre is dead, the arts are dead so history is not properly told so these are things we are involved in. We understand that if you have 4,000 people coming off your ship, you better have various things that meet their interest in all areas of culture so we are building out over the next 60 months a new environment in the marina area so when we go to world travel markets we are not just talking about sea and sand. We want to talk to you about all the different areas of the island and give you a full history so when you board the ship you say it was truly educational. Also, our culinary spread is to die for and must become part of the experience so we can argue why Florida Cruise needs to increase the amount of their ships both in the winter and summer. The work we are doing is already showing a dividend so we are looking for other partners to come be a part of what we are doing. We are currently packaging hot sauces etc. which are a cottage industry.  We cannot produce enough for even one ship so we need to build capacity and maintain standards. There are some wonderful opportunities.

As you mentioned the APG is also responsible for marketing and all activities associated with cruise ship operations when coming in and out of the port. What are the different initiatives in place to promote and market Antigua as a preferred cruise destination for the Eastern Caribbean?

We can have four ships coming in at the same time and docking right in the heart of the city, which is iconic and makes a statement.

Plans are in place to improve and enhance the ambience and viability of the entire downtown St. John’s Waterfront. Can you give us some details about this project and about the impact it will have on improving the visitors experience?

We have met with owners of properties in downtown St Johns, which is dark and drab. We don’t have winters so we want to have the city in pastel colours to give her vibrancy. She needs to look like who she is: a Caribbean civilization. You can see Georgian architecture sprinkled around so we also need to ensure that the town and country do not allow people to tear down historical buildings so we are, with the guidance of the Minister of Tourism and Prime Minister, developing an incentive program for owners of properties downtown St Johns.

We have also started discussions to expand greater St Johns as a full duty free port. St Maarten has it so we can do it too. We believe that if we are doing that, it would bring greater traffic and so what government may be losing in certain taxes it will get it back in the backside. There are other build outs that we are also doing, for example, creating a new area for our entrepreneurs so they are not scattered around the city of St. Johns.

There is also the potential for the development of a fifth berth at the Deepwater Commercial Port to accommodate the newer and larger mega ships. Is this something we can expect to witness in the coming years and are you looking to seek funding or partnerships in order to ensure its success?

Yes, yes, yes. The expansion of the Heritage Quay has been met with full kudos from the Florida Caribbean Cruise Association. It’s one of the things that they have asked us to do and that we have committed to do. Another one was they asked us in 2014 to sweep the harbour and they have been complaining about that for a little over a decade and a half and within the first year of this administration, that was done and as we tagline it “promise made, promise kept.” So when the Florida Cruise Association came to Antigua we were happy to show them the evidence that we have completed the first phase in securing Antigua’s space as the number one port for cruise ships.

The second part is the expansion of our pier by 30 metres to accommodate the largest Oasis class ships in the world.  The completion is due in November 2016 and the inaugural trip will be in December. And on the northern shoulder we will build a new pier as part of the expansion of St Johns harbour so that will include an additional pier, a hotel, because homeporting is now within our view so we are building a facility for that experience. That means that additional shops and other things will be built so we are looking for investors to come in to embrace these new opportunities.

Also, our supermarket is out of Florida, every week boats come in with our groceries because the Caribbean is not producing any food but we live in the south. We do not have any south-south trade or relationships and that’s where our future points. We need to broaden our relationships with trade as we see ourselves as having a major impact on trade in the region. The development of almost USD100 million by the EXIM Bank of China into the development of our port speaks to that.

So we are trying to fix everything in our city and ensuring that our people are properly trained and focusing on entrepreneurship. We are saying to our young people that we bring in the most visitors to the country and that each visitor offers an opportunity for whatever it is you want to develop so we are making sure that everything has standards and consistency so when we endorse it we know that our cruise ship passengers will want it. So we are excited that our role goes beyond what it has traditionally been: to have piers and guests come and that’s it. We have an obligation to create a high tide that raises all the ships and to look for new opportunities.

Is Barbuda included in those expansion plans?

Yes the Prime Minister talks about Barbuda as the oyster that no one talks about. So we don’t even know there’s a pearl because we don’t even know that there’s an oyster. Barbuda is pristine and represents our untouched canvas. We need to protect her from our issues for example global warming because she is below sea level. She is very delicate, she’s like a baby. She sits within the crust of what we want to do. She is the eyes for how we will build out a renewable energy sector. She is where research should take place for new products that will maintain the integrity of the planet and this part of the world. We want her to be in a rustic state, we don't want her to have any skyscrapers. We want a balance, for her it’s not about making money but about equilibrium. Barbuda is unique to us so we want to do it in the way that honours the science of today’s world so that there’s a balance to her development. The Prime Minister is very mindful of that. There’s a project to develop solar panels and we want Barbuda to become renewable and self-sufficient. We want to present Barbuda as a template for what a renewable energy future in the Caribbean should look like.

Marine resources are enormous so we want to find partnerships there. Our maritime coastline is one of the largest in the world. The abundance within our waters has not been tapped so we feel very strongly about partnering in these areas so we can train and improve opportunities for our young entrepreneurs. The government is also working on a sewage system in the city of St Johns. As the city grows, the need for this becomes quite evident.

On a more personal note. Mr Green you were ambassador with responsibility for Investment and Culture, and the General Manager of St. John’s Development. Now you are Managing Director at Antigua Pier Group. What accomplishments are you most proud of in your career? What were the biggest challenges?

The biggest one was that I was able to negotiate and find monies for the public market, the greatest usage by the people of the country and to provide new entrepreneurship opportunities for people. It’s not about us, it’s about serving the people. They say if you don’t love the people, you can’t lead the people. So my love for people has allowed me to do the things that we have done but we have always done them in partnership and that is my greatest accomplishment. The challenge is that we have so much to do and not having enough resources, and to look for new leadership and to give those people a voice.

The readers of Harvard Business Review include some of the world’s most important leaders. What message do you have for them?

We want to create a space for research and development especially around food and nutrition so we can live much longer. Also I would like to mention the level of engagement of our people. We are serious people and we are quite capable.