By Guy Britton
Few destinations have seen stronger growth over the last four years than Barbados, an island that has long been one of the Caribbean’s Meccas of elegance, luxury and charm. Much of that growth has been thanks to the stewardship of William Griffith, the CEO of Barbados Tourism Marketing Inc, which markets Barbados to the world. And a particular success has been the United States market, which has seen remarkable growth so far this year. To learn more about what’s driving Barbados’ impressive tourism performance, Caribbean Journal caught up with Griffith at the Cin Cin restaurant on the island’s iconic Platinum Coast.
It has been quite a year for Barbados Tourism Marketing. Can you give us an update on arrivals and growth?
2017 was another success year for Barbados overall and we met our target of 5% growth in arrivals with 663,511 visitors from around the world. This was another all-time high for the destination. Of note was the outstanding US growth, with arrivals of 189,022 which were the highest we’ve seen from that market in 30 years. The largest market, the UK, continued to show its resiliency despite the challenging status of its economy recording 222, 000 visitors which was the same as the previous year. Canada recorded a 8% increase or just over 85,000 arrivals. Up until Oct. 31st, 2018, preliminary results reveal that the upward trajectory continues, with 547,618 arrivals already, pacing 3% ahead of the 2017 with all the major markets trending positively.
Talk about Barbados’ recent surge in tourism growth. We attribute our growth to a number of factors, ranging from additional airlift to new and updated product on island, and of course marketing initiatives to help promote Barbados activity in our various source markets. In cases such as the US, favorable economic conditions also play a big role. Compliments must go out to entire team at BTMI who have worked tirelessly to achieve success with focus, energy and professionalism that is unparalleled. We continue to focus on honing in on what we’re doing right to ensure continual growth into each coming year and I think we’re getting closer and closer to our mark. Our decision to promote an overarching theme every year, this year was the Year of Culinary Experiences, has also allowed us to expose the unique selling features of Barbados.
The 2018 Barbados Food and Rum festival just concluded. How does this event help Barbados and what is the plan for 2019?
The Barbados Food and Rum Festival is always a highly-anticipated activity on our calendar of events. That was even more evident in this Year of Culinary Experiences. Since last year, we really sat down and looked at our strengths and decided to change our model slightly to focus on elevating the wealth of local talent in Barbados. So we had one international chef this year, Michelin-star Tom Aikens of the UK, and he served in the role of ambassador — traveling around with us to the various events while adding his celebrity status and expertise to the mix. We also expanded the Gourmet Safari dine around on the Saturday, opening it up to a number of restaurants across the island which offer different cuisines and price points to ensure there was something for everyone. I think that was the biggest success of this year and it’s something we’ll definitely look to continue going forward. We are eager for 2019’s edition as it will be the 10th anniversary of the Festival and we intend to make it the best one yet.
Barbados recently initiated a sharing economy levy. Tell us about that and how it is going.
The “Sharing Economy Levy” came into effect on August 1, 2018 as a component of the Government of Barbados’ fiscal adjustments for the country. Overall I think everyone understands the necessity of the levy and has done their part in ensuring they are registered and collecting the levy on behalf of the Government. The market has also equally adjusted to the increased levy.
What new developments or hotels are in the pipeline?
We expect a number of new hotels by 2020, the most prominent one being Beaches by Sandals and this will be over 600 rooms. This Winter the Virgin Atlantic Departure Beach will also open on Browne’s Beach offering guests the opportunity to soak up their last few moments in Barbados on one of the island’s best beaches.
Are there any airport developments or airline news you can share?
In terms of services, as I mentioned before the new and additional airlift we’ve seen over the past year – Copa Airlines launched from Panama in July, offering a twice-weekly service connecting Barbados to Latin America. Last Winter we also saw Thomas Cook and Virgin Atlantic adding services from London, Gatwick and Heathrow respectively and those will continue this Winter. American Airlines is also adding a third daily flight out of Miami and we’ll be getting a brand new daily service out of Charlotte this Winter from them as well. Air Canada has also increased its Montreal capacity for winter 2018.
At the airport we are definitely going to see a number of advancements as you know the Government of Barbados recently secured a US$40 million loan which has been earmarked specifically for physical improvements at the Grantley Adams International Airport, which are set to commence early next year.
What’s your forecast for 2019 for Barbados and the Caribbean?
I think that Barbados and the Caribbean continue to experience positive demand trends for 2019. I know that some of our neighboring islands have spent significant time recovering from last year’s hurricanes and that has been a big focus for many of them – getting back to business. But I just recently attended the Caribbean Tourism Organization’s State of Tourism Industry Conference in the Bahamas and there were encouraging stories of recovery. Our tourism industry will continue to be faced with many geo-political and economic challenges, our jobs will be to continue to manage the issues and be confident in our knowledge that our product is one that will always be sought after.