European downturn, airport tax, crime plague Barbados tourism industry
Barbados, an island highly dependent on tourism, is reeling under continued economic difficulties in Europe — its main tourism market — as well as a pending hike in the U.K. airline passenger duty and several violent attacks against British nationals.
John Beale, the country’s ambassador to the United States, said the immediate outlook is not rosy.
“We have had a great setback because of the recession. There’s no question that tourism drives the economy, and tourism numbers are beginning to come back up, but spending per person is down,” Beale said. “These days, cruise ship tourists spend a lot less than what they did before.”
Even so, he said, “the major focus of our tourism has been upper-end, and these tourists have been more resilient.”
The airline passenger duty (APD) has also hurt Barbados tourist arrivals, said Averil Byer, senior vice-president of the Barbados Tourism Authority.
“It has affected travel to some extent at the middle and lower end, particularly in the family market where families would be required to pay the duty for all persons traveling,” she said in an email. “Barbados, however, has had a longstanding relationship with the high-end U.K. market for many years, developed over the 21-year period from 1983 to 2004 that the British Airways Concorde flew to Barbados on scheduled flights.”
Byer added that this market segment “has remained loyal to Barbados” over the years, and that many repeat visitors have ended up buying homes, condos and timeshares — staying much longer on the 166-square-mile island as a result.
Yet in recent months, Barbados has been rocked by a spate of violent crime against tourists that has alarmed the British government.
In late January, a prominent British professor and his wife were attacked by a knife-wielding intruder within minutes of arriving at their rented villa in the northwestern parish of St. Peter. James Bridges — one of England’s top experts on toxicology — was stabbed three times while his wife suffered seven stab wounds, including a punctured spleen and diaphragm, and a fractured rib.
Then on March 17, two British tourists — Ann Prior, 59, and her husband Philip, 72 — were shot during a port call to Bridgetown as part of an 85-day world trip with P&O Cruises. Two suspects have been charged in the crime, while the victims were taken to a hospital and later discharged.
The incident is under investigation and was raised in the Barbados Parliament, where opposition leader Mia Mottley described such violence against tourists as “acts of economic terrorism.”
The British Foreign and Commonwealth Office didn’t issue a travel advisory to Barbados, though it did issue a warning: “The majority of visits by British nationals are trouble-free. However, incidents of violent crime, including murder, do occur. There have been serious attacks on foreign visitors, including armed robbery and sexual assaults, as well as opportunist thefts of wallets, handbags, jewelry and personal possessions.”
Rihanna to the rescue
Maybe Rihanna can help.
The risqué 24-year-old singer now serves as tourism ambassador for Barbados, appearing in the BTA’s new “Inside Out” video campaign basking in the sea, biking down a wooded country lane and playing dominoes on the beach, with her hit song Diamonds providing the soundtrack. The promotion capitalizes on Rihanna’s massive fan base, which includes 63 million followers on Facebook, 26 million on Twitter and nearly three million fans on Instagram.
A microsite featured as part of the promotion says it will highlight “the wealth of experiences available on the island and the crucial factors between what makes some people travelers and some people tourists.” Britain’s Daily Mail says this latest effort is designed to showcase a side of Barbados other than its renowned, high-end beach resorts.
Nevertheless, in the past year some of the island’s best-known hotels have closed, including the Almond Beach Village, the Almond Beach Club & Spa and the Almond Casuarina Beach Resort, which had a combined 500 rooms.
Couples Resorts is finalizing a deal to acquire the 280-room Casuarina, making it the first Jamaican resort group to venture into the Barbados market. Couples CEO Glenn Lawrence told Jamaica’s Daily Gleaner this is the second-largest resort in Barbados. The news came months after a deal to buy SuperClubs’ Breezes Grand in Negril fell through.
The Casuarina is owned by Barbados Shipping & Trading Co. and Almond Resorts Inc., both subsidiaries of Trinidad conglomerate Neal & Massy Holdings Ltd., in partnership with Goddard Enterprises Ltd. The resort is 4.5 miles from Bridgetown and five miles from Grantley Adams International Airport.
Last May, the Inter-American Development Bank approved a $55 million loan to finance completion of the long-delayed Four Seasons at Clearwater Bay. This 32-acre beachfront hotel and residential project — a subject of much political intrigue — has come under criticism since it stalled in 2009, leaving hundreds jobless.
Separately, the Barbados government has invested $2 million to upgrade infrastructure at the Inner Basin of Bridgetown’s Careenage in an effort to encourage yachting as a new niche market for Barbados tourism.
“We have put enough buoys to berth 40 yachts, and we are going to be putting additional buoys in the outer careenage,” said George Hutson, minister of international business and transport. He said the design for the latter would accommodate 50 vessels, and that revenue would be recovered through berthing fees.