Richard Sealy, minister of tourism and international transport for Barbados, recently announced that the island saw a 5 percent increase in stay-over arrivals last year, an all-time high for the destination.
This week, we asked Roach to share the secrets behind that growth.
Here's what we found.
“As a boutique destination, we’ve recognized that out of 300 million Americans, we are aiming to reach a very small percentage,” says Roach. “We don’t want to be everything to everyone, so we have been bold and brave and not shy about saying that we are not mass tourism.
“We are courting a well-heeled traveler seeking an authentic all-encompassing experience. The Barbadian people are our greatest asset and are the reason that repeat visitors say they come time and time again.”
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.
The United Kingdom was once again the top producer of arrivals to Barbados with a 33.5 percent market share. Arrivals from this market were flat compared to 2016, totaling 222,322. The United States followed, contributing 28.4 percent of business with 188,970 arrivals for the year. Canada contributed 12.8 percent of the business, and recorded an increase of 7.9 percent, or 85,209 arrivals.
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.
"Our aim from the U.S. market is to build a loyal clientele who returns year after year and who are choosing the destination not just because of price," says Roach. "There are several unique selling propositions that we have and we are using these stories to reach the audiences who are passionate about them."
And it seems to be working as the United States’ 2017 performance was the highest for that market in three decades – since contributing 175,093 arrivals in 1987.
“There are many connections between Barbados and the U.S. that we want to amplify this year,” says Roach. “It’s estimated that 9-10 million Americans – of both black and white ancestry – can trace their lineage back to the island. This even includes Gwyneth Paltrow – genealogy tourism.”
To drive home the U.S and Barbados connection even more, Roach points out that Barbados was the only place that George Washington visited outside of the U.S. and the house that he stayed in is now an interactive museum in his honor.
“We are working very closely with Mount Vernon, his ancestral home, and on May 5, we will be a part of the celebration of the launch of the George Washington Barbados diary,” she tells Travel Agent.
Trinidad and Tobago, "Other Europe" and "Other Caribbean" saw growth of 5.4 percent, 4.1 percent and 3.6 percent respectively, while “Other Central and South America” showed slight growth with a 0.3 percent increase over 2016.
In the official announcement, Sealy attributed the destination’s noteworthy performance to a number of strategic and integrated marketing initiatives, which were deployed across Barbados’ top source markets. But Roach also pointed out that new airlift, advanced travel agent partnerships and new hotel developments also played a monumental role in the island's success.
As far as airlift goes, Roach says JetBlue Airways "has been an outstanding partner." In addition to the airlines New York City hub, they have also launched three additional gateways with flights to Barbados. Those additional gateways are Newark, Fort Lauderdale and Boston, creating more convenience for U.S. visitors. Also, the carrier's award-winning Mint service is also available on flights to Barbados from Boston and New York.
“Our research shows that customers are looking for convenience of connectivity,” says Roach. “They want direct flights and seamless connections. We’ve worked diligently to advance our airlift from the Northeast and connection times through Fort Lauderdale.”
During Virtuoso Travel Week in August 2017, Roach says Barbados was able to strengthen agent relationships by taking the stage as the event's main sponsor at the gala dinner. And that resulted in heightened enthusiasm among the travel trade and increased awareness and visibility, says Roach. Barbados also recently launched its training program, Barbados Elite Club, and has already seen an uplift in the number of agents completing the program, says Roach.
"We recognize that travel agents – both online and brick and mortar – are integral to helping propel Barbados into the consideration set of today’s traveling public," she tells Travel Agent. "Barbados has partnered with the likes of Expedia and Booking.com to implement aggressive online marketing campaigns targeting those consumers who have the time and confidence to book their vacation right on their mobile phone. We place just as much importance on our customized training for Virtuoso agents, who are relied upon by America’s discerning travelers - those who desire customized travel experiences and expert insight when shaping their vacation experience.
"We’ve also strengthened our partnerships with operators such as Flight Centre and Travel Impressions. Both are offering tailor-made experiences in partnership with our top properties and attractions."
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, and redevelopment projects include the Sea Breeze Beach House, Treasure Beach, The Waves Hotel & Spa and upgrades at the Barbados Hilton. Another huge tourism development on the island came recently with the opening of Nikki Beach Barbados.
"The Barbados product has not only undergone a massive facelift but the product now is younger, sexier and more appealing," says Roach. "It’s like a breath of fresh air with additions to the product offering yoga classes, butler service and specially created culinary menus."
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.
"There’s a great quote by Will Rogers that I love, 'Even if you’re on the right track, you’ll get run over if you just sit there,'” says Roach. "It’s not enough to continue to do what we’ve always done, and expect different results. We just have to ensure we constantly innovate and engage."