Martin Ince is CEO of Foster & Ince and Chair of the Tourism Development Corporation
What trends are you seeing in the cruise industry?
Cruising worldwide continues to grow at a steady pace, and now the industry is evolving into specialized categories. So niche-market ships are a recent development – smaller vessels targeted to specific customer-groups. Fortunately for us, Barbados still ranks high among the operators as a must-have destination; so we attract the high-end ships. There seems to be an attitude of “let’s meet in Barbados” among luxury travellers, which helps us but must be maintained.
This doesn’t mean we should not be concerned about our position. The region is actually outpacing us, and serving the cruise industry is not just about ships, it’s about airport capacity, transport infrastructure, boutique hotels, local attractions and whole eco-system of players. We have to keep evolving ourselves, or lose out to coming markets like St. Lucia, who are progressing very well.
So is this what worries you?
Yes, among many other things. After Puerto Rico, Barbados is the largest home port in the southern Caribbean, and we are incredibly important to the smaller islands nearby, since they become part of a cruise itinerary based around us. In fact, the hurricanes of last year showed us how much we need them and their varied attractions – when we lost them for a while it was a significant blow.
But I’m also concerned that we are not capitalizing as a market on our tourist volumes. We are up to almost 800,000 cruise visitors annually; these are short-stay people, but we’re really doing nothing to entice them back for longer stays. We need a master plan – a programme to bring a percentage of these visitors back.
Bridgetown needs a development plan urgently. There is so much opportunity to create a memorable walk-around destination, and to receive a higher revenue of discretionary spend from each visitor.
What else does Barbados need to do in the tourism market?
We do need a strategic action plan for the future of our tourism; a consistent narrative of who we are and why people should visit. We have so many advantages, so much goodwill among ordinary people; there are hundreds of stories waiting to be told. We need to bring the old concept of “Beautiful Barbados” alive, place by place and fix our product along the way.