If you’re a #socajunkie, you already know that Antigua is one of the places you head to during carnival season to get on badder than bad. But there’s so much more to the picturesque islands of Antigua and Barbuda than what meets the eye, and one man is on a mission to show it to you.
The child of two Antiguan citizens who came to the United States to provide their family with a bright future, Dr. Collin Devon Williams (who holds dual citizenship) grew up with the best of both worlds and worked hard to make his parents’ sacrifices worthwhile. But when the fear of being undocumented citizens in the states caused his parents to flee back home to Antigua and miss his college graduation, Williams used the event as a catalyst to create a movement that would not only ensure his parents would never miss another special occasion, but that others would be able to share in the joy and beauty of Antigua, the place that helped make him who he is today.
In 2015 Williams took 27 friends with him to the tropical paradise to celebrate his PhD graduation with family. What was supposed to be a one-time trip turned into Collin Devon Events (CDE), an annual group event that introduces young professionals of color to the beauty and vibes of Antigua. The rest, as they say, is history.
ESSENCE caught up with the Antiguan ambassador to learn what makes CDE so special, why jetsetters will fall in love with Antigua and what destination is next on his turn up list.
Tell us a little about CDE Antigua?
Collin Devon: CDE started at University of Pennsylvania. Blacks and other students of color often needed to create their own outlets and spaces to socialize and have fun, and I helped provide that on my own, and sometimes others, off-campus apartments. When I graduated, my undocumented parents had already returned to Antigua due to fear of not achieving citizenship. They did not get to see me graduate, the reason the immigrated to the US in the first place. Heartbroken, I was determined to make sure my next graduation celebration included family and friends, so I planned a one-time “Graduation Getaway” trip for me and 27 of my friends. When a contact at Time Magazine featured me in a piece on Black millennials changing the face of travel, the boutique trip was introduced to hundreds of thousands of people. Many began to reach out on social media, essentially telling me I had to do it again.
Today, CDE Antigua seeks to introduce dope millennial professionals to Antigua and each other, immerse them in culture, nightlife and cuisine, and ultimately inspire them to contribute to the economy, either by simply spending their vacation dollars there or engaging in strategic projects and initiatives.
What makes CDE different from any other company?
The Ambassador Advantage. Not only am I a dual citizen, but I was named an ambassador of tourism in 2018. Beyond authenticity and intimate understanding of the landscape, I am afforded a level of access that makes it possible for me to do things in Antigua that other travel companies can’t do anywhere.
What are the biggest challenges you’ve faced with CDE as an entrepreneur?
A few things like getting people to believe me when I tell them exactly how many people I’m bringing to Antigua each year. Convincing hoteliers we are a worthwhile demographic and that we have the buying power to warrant a hotel buyout and finding enough commercial flights into Antigua to meet the demand of travelers trying to get to CDE.
What do you think makes CDE Antigua different from other trips to the Caribbean?
CDE removes thinking from the vacation planning process and creates a seamless experience from beginning to end. I plan flights, airport shuttles, transportation around the island, events, food, drinks, parties, networking opportunities, community service and more. The service, surprisingly to me, is one of the components attendees say makes CDE different from other travel groups. They get to feel good about giving back while traveling, but they also get a look into who Collin the person is and why CDE goes back to Antigua each year. In a way, they become a part of a movement and not just a travel experience.
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We know for you Antigua is home, but what about the island do you think visitors will love and connect with the most?
The people, hands down. Antiguans are some of the most hospitable people in the Caribbean, and they are excited when we show up. For example, the staff at the Royalton Antigua had an immense sense of pride to be accommodating young people that look like them and it showed in their superb service.
Five things visitors to Antigua must do/experience before they leave
- View from Shirley Heights
- Nelson’s Dockyard (Seafood Fridays and/or Fort Berkeley)
- Hike to the Pillars of Hercules at Galleon Bay Beach
- Devil’s Bridge
- A local fete
Any plans to host events on other islands?
Absolutely. Antigua is my home and focus, and where I plan to retire sooner rather than later. As for other countries, I would love to branch out there once I have the connections and access to provide the quality of experience my guests have come to expect. For example, Barbados looks a lot more appealing and feasible of a destination when international DJ Puffy says we should take CDE there next.