Veteran hotelier Antony “Tony” Johnson has retired just months shy of his 93rd birthday; after nearly 60 years at the helm of Siboney Beach Club, one of the island’s venerable hotel properties.
But although he is no longer in the business, having sold the property to three local businessmen, the World War II Veteran who is one of Antigua’s most notable characters and a legend of the region’s hospitality industry, said he is available to offer advice on how to run a successful tourism business.
For nearly six decades, Johnson made a living off of his pocket size, 12-room beach front hotel and restaurant, which were built with immaculate attention to detail and quality.
When he came to Antigua in 1959, there was no beach culture because most people, except for the fishermen, didn’t know how to swim, didn’t go to the beach and many did not have cars to get there.
Today, it is very different. From cruise ship passengers to hotel guests to locals, everyone has a reason to be on the beaches, whether it is for picnics, swimming lessons, parties, baptisms, relaxation and so much more.
”I came to Antigua 57 years ago, I love it, I think it is fantastic and I am not leaving. When I sold my property in November, part of my deal was to keep my home in the hotel and I have that. Nobody loves the beach like I do, I enjoy the beaches,” he said, staring out his hotel room window.
With his hands clasped on the small table in the room, his spectacles lowered and a serious look on his face, Johnson added, “I enjoyed working at this low stress job. That’s why I kept it small, 12 rooms were just enough. The sad thing for me though is that so few Antiguans own workable hotels. For hotels to work in Antigua they really need to be on the beach but they own hotels on some back spot somewhere, it is a pity.”
He said he has no objections to foreign investors setting up resorts, but one day hopes more locals can pool their resources and invest.
“It isn’t that I don’t want to see foreign hoteliers because they are doing great for Antigua but I’d like to see more Antiguans generating money for Antigua. Of course it is not cheap to buy a piece of land by the beach and to build on but surely there are some rich Antiguans who can come together and do it, aren’t there?” he posits.
When Johnson came to Antigua, only two hotels existed on the beach – Lord Nelson’s Beach Hotel and Anchorage – and he observed that “now our economy totally depends on tourism and it is wonderful how the wealth of Antiguans has increased. It was a poverty-stricken island when I came and I have watched it grow for more than half a century.”
Local businessmen Roy bento, Russell Hadeed and Kevin Gomez are the new owners of Siboney Beach Club and they are said to be working on expanding the property. •