Travel Agent recently invited Caribbean tourism delegates to a roundtable discussion in New York to get firsthand status updates from both the islands that were devastated by last year’s hurricane season and the ones that escaped major damage.
Included in the discussion were Kim Jack Riley, Antigua and Barbuda’s director of tourism for the USA; Cardigan Connor, parliamentary secretary for Anguilla's tourism sector; Petra Roach, U.S. director of the Barbados Tourism Marketing Inc.; Celia Ross-Latham, director of sales for the St. Vincent and The Grenadines Tourism Office; Victoria Isley, chief sales and marketing officer at the Bermuda Tourism Authority; Perla George, business development director for North America at the British Virgin Islands Tourist Board; Mikala Moss, area manager for New York for the Bahamas Tourist Office; Christine Noel-Horsford, director of sales and marketing for the Grenada Tourism Authority; and Sylma Brown, director for the U.S. for the Caribbean Tourism Organization (CTO).
Ruthanne Terrero and Joe Pike of Travel Agent magazine and Travel Agent Central moderated the conversation.
Barbados' Record Year
In fact, Richard Sealy, minister of tourism and international transport for Barbados, announced earlier in the year that the island saw a 5 percent increase in stay-over arrivals last year, an all-time high for the destination.
“We actually had very good fortune in 2017, because we surpassed a 30-year record,” says Roach. “So, the last time the largest number of American visitors into Barbados [occurred] was in 1987 and that was 175,093 visitors and we actually achieved 188,970 visitors this year. After 30 years, we beat the record. We've seen eventual growth year after year, and for the first month January, we've also seen nine percent growth on top of that, so we expect that 2018 will finish quite positively as well.”
Over the course of 2017, the Grantley Adams International Airport (GAIA) welcomed 663,441 visitor arrivals, which was 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 percent. Of these 818,752 cruise arrivals, some 137,541 passengers stayed over in Barbados, above 2016’s total of 130,924.
Of special note is the United States, which, while being the second-highest producer of business, grew by a whopping 11.7 percent over 2016.
The hotel developments Roach credits for Barbados' recent success includes Sandals Royal Barbados, the island’s second Sandals property that debuted in December. The Sandals addition is of particular importance given the brand’s popularity among travel advisors, says Roach.
Additional refurbished properties include the Fairmont Royal Pavilion and Turtle Beach By Elegant Hotels, and redevelopment projects include the Sea Breeze Beach House, Treasure Beach by Elegant Hotels, Waves Hotel & Spa by Elegant Hotels and upgrades at the Hilton Barbados Resort.
Another huge tourism development on the island came recently with the opening of Nikki Beach Barbados. This beach club location includes a restaurant, pool and beach access with oceanfront seating for up to 200 guests. In case of inclement weather, the dining space is covered with a waterproof awning.
The pool has an octagon wet bar where guests can swim up to enjoy Nikki Beach’s signature cocktail selection. Four oversized luxury pool beds also line the dock, allowing guests to relax with Caribbean waves crashing around them.
The Island’s Biggest Challenge
For the islands that weren’t affected by the hurricane season, the immediate challenge is getting the message across to consumers that the entire Caribbean region was not decimated, as many in the public believe, says Roach.
“I think communication is key in all these things, and whether it's that journalists come down and do all these tourism projects or whether they come see all the progress that's been made in terms of the redevelopment to rebuild, I think it's very important that we keep spreading that message,” says Roach. “It's Barbados, it's Antigua, it's Grenada, but ultimately we are the Caribbean, and until we get that message through, deeply ingrained in our brains, we're going to make progress one foot forward and then go back three steps.”