My Caribbean Guide Book is 788 pages long. Six pages are devoted to Montserrat.
Such little attention reflects a number of things about this island, in the heart of the Caribbean but way off the radar for many clients (and travel advisors, too). Its size is diminutive – about the same as Manhattan. There are no direct flights from Canada, no all-inclusives, no chain hotels, and no slick amusement-park style attractions. And the population numbers just 5,000.
Which is clearly what its visitors love about it.
Tourists are drawn to its low-key charms, genuinely warm hospitality, lush hiking trails, scuba opportunities and dark sand beaches. Officially a British Overseas Territory, the links with the UK can be seen in the love of cricket, driving-on-the-left and place names: St. Peter’s, St. John’s and the one-time capital Plymouth. But one of the special quirks of the island is its links to Ireland, the home of early settlers. The Montserrat logo features a Shamrock, there’s an Irish harp on the island’s flag, and this little island is the only country outside Ireland to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day with a national holiday (not to mention a two week-long party).
Clients can access the island via a 20-minute flight from Antigua on SVG Air or Air Montserrat. Once there, accommodation comprises bed’n’breakfasts, guesthouses and villas. The largest accommodation has just 16 rooms. “We have no all-inclusives – not now, now ever,” states tourism official Brade Phillip.
One of the strangest “attractions” is touring the island’s Exclusion Zone, the southern 2/3 of Montserrat which was blanketed in ash during two mid-1990s volcanic eruptions of Soufrière Hills and since then largely closed off. Uninhabited, the Zone is a bit like Italy’s Pompeii which chronicles a moment frozen in time in AD75 when Mt. Vesuvius erupted. While Pompeii offers glimpses of a life of togas and chariots, in Montserrat visitors see a time capsule of grey, abandoned supermarkets and ash-filled swimming pools, the cassette players beside them silent and untouched for 25 years.
As our industry undergoes so many changes, both in infrastructure and in clients’ tastes, Monserrat may be poised to be a welcoming, unpretentious destination for the adventurous client who is seeking a “greener” vacation, with more authenticity and opportunity to connect with the locals.
And an chance for travel advisors to create an FIT to the Caribbean. Imagine!
Find out more at visitmontserrat.com