“Air arrivals from Canada increased 19 percent January through September 2015 over 2014, and 27.9 percent from the United States—positive results for the first time in six years,” said William “Billy” Griffith, CEO of Barbados Tourism Marketing Inc., speaking at SOTIC, the Caribbean Tourism Organization’s annual State of the Industry Conference. Griffith forecasted more growth, thanks in part to improved airlift, including additional capacity from Jan. 7 to April 30 on Air Canada Rouge flights and, starting Nov. 7, a JetBlue nonstop from Boston and Mint Service from JFK. In April, JetBlue will begin daily nonstop flights to Barbados from Fort Lauderdale. Cruise arrivals are “set to increase by 5 to 7 percent, largely driven by 16 inaugural visits,” said Griffith. The newbies include megaships, thanks to a major expansion of the Bridgetown Port.
Another big boost for tourism was the opening of Sandals Barbados, which is so successful that it will add 220 guestrooms in 2016. “This winter the Sugar Bay Hotel (formerly Amaryllis) and The Sands (formerly Sandy Beach) will also open their doors as all-inclusive products, adding 300 new rooms,” said Griffith. “The Wyndham Hotel project at the site of…Sam Lord’s Castle and the Hyatt Hotel in…Bridgetown will see the island welcoming two established global hotel brands by 2018. In addition, 24 hotels have undergone significant refurbishments in time for the 2016 winter season.” Over the next five years, Barbados will add 2,300 guestrooms. Griffith acknowledged a trend in Barbados toward all-inclusive properties, adding, “The success of Sandals is what has given it some impetus.”
Perfect timing on all this hotel growth, because Barbados is about to celebrate its 50th anniversary as an independent nation. Not only will 2016 feature a “dense events calendar…to reduce seasonality, [but] we will raise the standard of every event,” promised Griffith. In fact, Barbados isn’t waiting for 2016 to improve its game. This year’s Barbados Food & Wine and Rum Festival will feature star chef Marcus Samuelsson (his sixth appearance), an Oistins party, a gourmet safari, and even a polo event. Barbados Marathon weekend (Dec. 4 through Dec. 6), with four races ranging from one mile to a full marathon, has already gotten more overseas registrants than it had last year.
“We’ve just completed a brand positioning exercise wherein all future marketing campaigns will capitalize on our reputation as a safe, engaging, and culturally rich destination. A redesign of visitbarbados.org is aimed at improved speed and authenticity of brand voice,” he said. “BTMI’s sister agency, the Barbados Tourism Product Authority (BTPA), is also implementing…initiatives to create new tourism experiences, assure high service and product quality, and increase public awareness of the importance of tourism.” Key niche markets for Barbados mentioned by Griffith include romance, soft adventure, VFR(visiting friends and relatives)/diaspora, and sports. Needless to say, luxury hotels, gastronomy and family travel are big parts of the picture too. New attractions such as the Gunhill Signal Station and Blackwood’s Screw Dock emphasize Barbados’ rich history.
Agents should know about one other marketing initiative: “During these yearlong celebrations,” said Griffith, “there will be chances to win free vacations and free destination weddings, as well as incentives for our top-performing travel agents.” For more information, visit visitbarbados.org.