This November, Barbados will mark its 50th anniversary of independence. But the 166-square-mile island long known as “Little England” has more than that to celebrate.
In 2015, long-stay arrivals surpassed 592,000, up by nearly 1 percent from the 521,000 visitors who came in 2014. That broke the all-time record of 570,000 set in 2007 by 3 percent. According to official statistics, Great Britain — which granted the island independence in 1966 — remains the leading source of tourism for Barbados, accounting for 218,000 visitors, or nearly 37 percent of all long-stay arrivals. The United States (with 25 percent of the total) sent 148,000 tourists, representing an impressive 25 percent jump over 2014 figures.
Lower global oil prices, resulting in more disposable income, had something to do with that, along with returning consumer confidence, Tourism Minister Richard Sealy suggested in a Feb. 5 press briefing.
But Sealy downplayed growth projections for 2016, saying it would be unrealistic to replicate last year’s numbers.
In February, Barbados and the UK signed an air services agreement that allows local airlines to fly to intermediate points and beyond, and UK-designated carriers to do likewise. “Through this agreement, the Barbados-UK route will open up to numerous European and Caribbean carriers with the long-term effect of improving service and keeping prices low,” said Maxine McClean, the island’s minister of foreign affairs.
The upcoming independence milestone is also cause for optimism, with island tourism officials expanding its aggressive online marketing campaign known as Brilliant Barbados 50, which offers 50 percent discounts on selected hotel bookings across the island.
“We hope to build on the positive results yielded from last year’s campaign with an improved iteration re-branded to mark our island’s 50th anniversary of independence,” said William Griffith, CEO of Barbados Tourism Marketing Inc. “This year is already off to an encouraging start, and by launching this promotion early, we hope to sustain that performance through the traditionally softer summer and fall months.”
In late February, Expedia users chose Barbados as Caribbean Best Destination 2016. The award, presented during the recent Caribbean Travel Marketplace, marked the seventh such prize Barbados has received in the last 12 months. Similar accolades have been bestowed upon the island by Caribbean Journal and TripAdvisor, while readers of London’s Telegraph voted Barbados the vest Caribbean destination for family travel, beach holidays, adventure holidays, weddings and honeymoons.
Meanwhile, about $1 billion will be spent upgrading or building new hotels in Barbados over the next five years. These include the Sandals Casuarina, which will add 220 rooms; the Beaches hotel planned for the former Almond Beach Village; the Carlisle Bay Hyatt Hotel, and the new Wyndham-branded Sam Lords Castle, being renovated with $170 million in funds from China’s Export-Import Bank.
Barbados also saw a 5.1 percent rise in cruise ship arrivals, with 504,000 passengers coming in 2015. But not all the news is good. The $250 million Sugar Point cruise ship terminal planned by Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. for the Bridgetown waterfront will probably never see the light of day, according to Sealy.
The terminal, a sugar-and-rum-themed complex that was to have boasted four piers capable of handling up to seven cruise ships simultaneously has been shelved.
“Sugar Point is a huge, expensive project. It is also a good project and one that we would love to see take place, but the question would have to be one of timing and affordability,” Sealy told reporters at the briefing. The terminal involved the creation of 20 acres of reclaimed land and 215,000 square feet of retail and food outlets, as well as an entertainment space and a luxury hotel.