The Honourable Richard Sealy, Minister of Tourism and International Transport has announced that Barbados enjoyed a record 5% increase in stay-over arrivals last year, an all-time high for the destination.
Over the course of 2017, the Grantley Adams International Airport (GAIA) welcomed 663,441 visitor arrivals – 31,308 more than 2016. The Bridgetown Port Inc. (BPI) also observed tremendous growth, recording 818,752 cruise arrivals over the previous year’s 725,020, for a total increase of 12.9%. Of these 818,752 cruise arrivals, some 137,541 passengers stayed over in Barbados, above 2016’s total of 130,924.
“I am delighted by this news and what it says about Barbados’ tourism product,” said Sealy. “It is never easy as a mature tourism destination to maintain growth at these levels in the competitive business landscape in which we operate, but I am pleased that through strategic marketing efforts we have once again proven Barbados’ value as shown by the record number of arrivals at both the air and sea ports throughout 2017.”
The United Kingdom was once again the top producer of arrivals to Barbados with a 33.5% market share. Arrivals from this market were flat compared to 2016, totaling 222,322. The United States followed, contributing 28.4% of business with 188,970 arrivals for the year. Canada contributed 12.8% of the business, and recorded an increase of 7.9% or 85,209 arrivals.
Of special note is the United States, who, while being the second-highest producer of business, grew by a whopping 11.7% over 2016. The United States’ 2017 performance was the highest for that market in three decades – since contributing 175,093 arrivals in 1987.
Trinidad & Tobago, Other Europe, and Other Caribbean saw growth of 5.4%, 4.1% and 3.6% respectively, while Other Central & South America showed a slight growth with a 0.3% increase over 2016.
Sealy attributed the destination’s noteworthy performance to a number of strategic and integrated marketing initiatives which were deployed across Barbados’ top source markets. “I must commend our tourism teams both here and in our global offices, whose efforts were instrumental in us achieving this record 5% growth.”
Some of the marketing efforts Sealy referenced included:
New niche events
Continuing to position Barbados as a formidable player in sports tourism, two new events were created for the traditionally softer period of September – the Barbados Beach and Wellness Festival and the Barbados Cycling Festival. Receiving positive feedback and displaying strong potential for further development and accomplishment, Sealy announced that the BTMI will once again host the two events in 2018.
New air services
“One of the key components in achieving positive tourism performance is of course the accessibility of the destination to visitors around the world. Bearing this in mind we have worked to ensure that we are both maintaining our current airlift, while adding new, enticing services to our repertoire, for example the new Copa partnership which I announced last month,” Sealy said.
Barbados’ new partnership with Copa Airlines will see a twice weekly Barbados–Panama service commencing this July 17, and tickets are already on sale on the airline’s website. Late last year, the BTMI also joined with GAIA in welcoming Virgin Atlantic’s new London Heathrow twice-weekly service to Barbados which commenced December 12, 2017 and will run until February 24, 2018; and later the Thomas Cook new weekly flight from London Gatwick which commenced December 16, 2017 and will run until March 17, 2018.
Exciting new attractions and accommodations
“Considering the numerous new and increased services, we also saw it important to ensure that we had adequate and quality accommodations available to the additional arriving passengers,” Sealy said. “We therefore saw a number of hotels being refurbished and reopening just ahead of the Winter season, hotels such as Sea Breeze, Fairmont Royal Pavilion, Treasure Beach, The House and so on.”
Sealy also welcomed the new business that the recently opened Sandals Royal located on Maxwell Beach has already brought to Barbados.
Describing the island’s new attractions as “integral” in differentiating destination Barbados, Sealy said “I am happy to say that a number of new attractions have come on stream, attractions that will differentiate the product offering we have here in Barbados. There’s the Nikki Beach club that opened at Port Ferdinand, and of course in 2017 we christened the new Rihanna Drive, which has already garnered much international media attention following our ceremony last November. If you’ve been to Speightstown you’ll also see that there’s a buzz around the new restaurants that have opened there… but overall, there are a lot of positive new developments happening across the island.”
Sealy made the point that as tourism continues to boom for Barbados, it is important to continue to engage Barbadians, whom he described as the primary beneficiaries of the industry. “The i am tourism campaign launched last year by the BTPA is just one of the ways we’re involving the public in our business of tourism, starting as young as primary schools and continuing all the way up. The Rihanna Drive project was also one that went out into the community and involved residents of Westbury New Road in both the planning and then the execution of the event.”
Throughout 2017, destination Barbados picked up several awards and accolades. In April, the World Economic Forum released its biennial Travel & Tourism Competitiveness Report, where Barbados received the highest score for Safety & Security in the Caribbean, and one of the highest scores for Health & Hygiene in the world.
In June, Barbados tourism was selected as a case study candidate by Destination Marketing Association International (DMAI), as a result of the success of the restructure and establishment of the BTMI and the Barbados Tourism Product Authority (BTPA). The other destinations chosen were Singapore, Barcelona, Capetown, London, Melbourne, Vienna, Vancouver and Hangzhou China.
Later, in July, Barbados beat out Aruba, Martinique and several other popular Southern Caribbean islands, to nab third place in Cruise Critic’s Top-Rated Southern Caribbean Cruise Destinations. In September, Barbados was voted above the Canary Islands, Egypt, Mexico, Tenerife and Thailand by travel agents to win the prestigious Star Winter Sun Destination 2017 award.
New opportunities for 2018
Looking ahead, Sealy said that “While we celebrate the numerous successes of last year, we are already full-steam ahead with our plans to make sure that 2018 is an equally promising year of growth for Barbados tourism. We have high hopes for our new airline partnerships, new hotel accommodations, new product development, and other new marketing activities in which we will be engaging across our source markets.”
One such opportunity Sealy revealed was that this year will see the commencement of the National Tourism Programme’s U.S. $20 million loan which he said will span five years and seeks to further develop tourism product marketing and airlift.
“We are also packaging 2018 as the Year of Culinary Experiences and you will therefore see us promoting a lot of the delicious and authentic dining experiences to be had on island, from flying fish to gourmet breadfruit bowls,” Sealy said. “And I am confident that with all we have in the works, we will once again be celebrating a record year come January 2019.”
The Year of Culinary Experiences began with the BTPA’s Sugar and Rum Season which is ongoing through April. Next on the calendar is the revamped Oistins Fish Festival over Easter weekend. Activities will continue throughout the year and more information can be found at https://www.visitbarbados.org/year-of-culinary-experiences.
Up next for the destination is the annual Connect Barbados B2B conference which will once again see tour operators travel to Barbados from around the world to experience and learn more about all the island has to offer. The conference is scheduled for May 9-12, 2018.