By Pat Hoyos
BRIDGETOWN, Barbados, Monday May 16, 2016 – The Barbados economy grew by an estimated 1.7 percent during the first quarter of calendar 2016, thanks to another strong winter tourist season. Long-stay arrivals were up seven percent, with continued improvement in the US and UK markets.
Visitors from the United States increased by 13.1 percent to reach an estimated 42,000 in the quarter, while those from the United Kingdom increased by almost ten percent to around 69,000. The Canadian market, however, declined by one percent to just over 30,000, while Germany and the rest of Europe declined around seven percent to 13,000 visitors.
Closer to home, the Trinidad & Tobago market grew by one-third to 7,000 rivals and the rest of Carom by close to three percent to just over 12,000. Brazil, which only provide 1,400 visitors in the first quarter of last year, decline almost by half to 700.
But the surge in two of our largest markets was enough to boost arrivals by seven percent over the same period last year, as noted above, and the question on everyone’s mind is whether Barbados can continue to grow its tourism industry after its dramatic rebounding last year, when long stay visitor arrivals grew by almost 14 percent to reach 526,000.
The Broad Street Journal put this question to Minister of Tourism Richard Sealy on Wednesday evening, after he had addressed tour operators and hoteliers who were visiting Heroes Gallery in Parliament Square as part of the Connect Barbados 50 conference. Does he believe we will have a strong summer season?
Said Sealy: “In essence, yes. Obviously the Crop Over Festival seems to be attracting a lot of regional – and a lot of extra-regional – business here, but I think with the 50th ((independence anniversary celebrations) and many members of our diaspora planning to come back here, it really should be a good opportunity for our tourism players.”
And while Barbados, like many other destinations, continues to spend money to bring airlift here, through what is called in the industry “co-op marketing” as well as direct subsidies and minimum revenue guarantees, Sealy says the country is now starting to attract more airlift by virtue of increased consumer demand.
“We really do believe that with the increased capacity that we’re getting, from Virgin Atlantic, Air Canada, British Airways, Jet Blue, new services like Avianca, and of course, Condor putting back the third flight and so on, we think the possibility is there for us to increase over last year. No question about that,” he said.
“A lot of the capacity has come from airlines themselves responding to demand,” Sealy noted. “And that, of course, has been fueled by investment in the hotel sector. It’s extremely heartening to see the level of activity in Barbados among our hotel partners with respect to upgrading and refurbishing, in some cases acquiring new property or looking to (do so).”
He added: “You look at all the major groups in Barbados – the Elegant Group, of course, recently acquired a new property; the Sun Group, they are looking to acquire a new property. Of course, Sandals expanding; the Paul Doyle group, they are also looking to increase capacity, and not to be left out, the Intimate Group, those modest hotels, they too are refurbishing. so that speaks to investor confidence. Because it’s across the board, not one or two people – the sector is seeing a rebirth in confidence.
The Tourism Minister said that while he was happy to see a turnaround in the industry come as a result of policy initiatives taken by his government, he would not try to take all of the credit.
“I wouldn’t be so immodest that what has happened over the past eight years is the only reason we are seeing this success,” said Sealy. “There are a number of things that we spoke about that we wanted to see happen that are happening but it also has to do with what has happened over many decades. And I think it is a fact that Barbados is a very special place, and that has come from a foundation that has been laid and we are just trying to build on it, to harness it in the most advantageous way, and I’m satisfied that we’re going in the right direction.”