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How Barbados Is Preparing for Its Tourism Future

By: Caribbean Journal Staff

Every destination is working to prepare a plan for the eventual relaunch of tourism in a COVID-19 world. For Barbados, that means working on new health guidelines, continuing to market the destination digitally and even fast-tracking new hotel projects for an accelerated construction timetable. To learn more, CJI caught up with Barbados Tourism Minister Kerrie Symonds in the latest CJI Conversation.

How is the pandemic affecting travel to Barbados in the short and medium-term?

As a small developing island state, dependent on a robust tourism sector, COVID-19 has created a challenging economic and social environment for the island. The global effects of the pandemic have been felt in Barbados, especially in the tourism sector, which has seen temporary closures and labor furloughs due to the significant reduction in commercial airlift capacity and future bookings.

In terms of tourism promotion, many of our planned major events for 2020, both here and in our source markets, have been placed on hold. This includes the Barbados Reggae Festival, the Vujaday Music Festival, Crop Over Festival, and our Food and Rum Festival – all of which attract thousands of tourists year-round. Needless to say, we have experienced a significant contraction in our tourism but, given the need to protect our tourism workers, citizens and visitors, we have shifted our focus to public health, adhering to the protocols established by the health authorities to stop the spread of the virus. Tourism is a resilient sector, and we look forward to improving our overall brand, including products, signature festivals attractions, and amenities to encourage our repeat visitors and entice first-time visitors to our shores to experience our unique culture and heritage.

When do you think the travel industry will begin to rebound?

While we are eager to get back to some sense of normalcy, it would be presumptuous of me to identify a specific time for the travel industry to rebound. We are guided firstly by our health officials and, in the meantime, we are working closely with our partners, especially our tour operators, cruise and airline partners, to ensure we are prepared for the return of travelers. We are hopeful that as with previous global shocks, this resilient industry will bounce back stronger and better than ever. When it does, Barbados will welcome back our familiar guests and new ones with open arms and warm smiles – that is the Bajan way!

What is Barbados doing to prepare for the influx of travel when that happens?

Even though our various source markets have been impacted by COVID-19, which has resulted in significantly less travel to Barbados, we understand the importance of keeping the destination top of mind and reminding everyone why they should return to Barbados. 

The Caribbean Tourism Organization recently launched its Caribbean Dreaming social media campaign, with messaging that revolves around staying safe and looking forward to welcoming visitors when it’s possible to travel again. We are pleased to participate in this innovative initiative.  Digital campaigns can be used effectively at this time to capture the attention of a global audience who are seeking messages of hope and beauty. To facilitate our safe and prompt return to the market when conditions improve, we are collaborating closely with our partners and keeping them abreast of the developments here in Barbados through organic and grassroots marketing initiatives.

How is hotel construction and development being impacted?

There are several major hotel construction projects that have been fast-tracked and are poised to begin as soon as the all-clear is given. The Government of Barbados has provided much-needed critical assistance to both businesses and individuals considering the unexpected effects of COVID-19.

Initiatives that the government is currently supporting include recapitalizing the Small Hotel Investment Fund with $20 million to allow small hotels to refurbish their properties at lower interest rates during this down period. We will be launching a National Training Initiative aimed at enhancing the efficiency of the entire workforce bringing all our services to world-class standard. Also, the creation of a Jobs, Investment, and Business Survival Program to permit businesses to invest and upscale to build resilience and improve effectiveness to meet the demands of future travelers will be commenced shortly.

These initiatives will encourage stakeholders within the tourism sector to focus on rebuilding and rebranding. This provides hope for our future as we seek to transform our industry to be globally competitive.

Barbados tourism was performing well before the pandemic. What makes you optimistic that this can resume once source markets begin sending travelers to the island again?

With our ongoing digital campaigns and forward-thinking messaging, we are assuring travelers that they will be safe and enjoy a true escape when they visit our beautiful island. Additionally, we are actively seeking to implement initiatives to improve our sector through strengthening inter-sectoral linkages, improving national phytosanitary and service excellence standards, and upgrades to our national infrastructure. Also, our hopeful and inspiring messages will encourage travelers and our partners to consider Barbados as a world-class destination. People love to travel for various reasons, including to sample and savor exotic destinations and to escape to paradise.  I strongly believe that as soon as the pandemic is under control, Barbados will once again be considered as a destination of choice. This is an opportunity for me to stress that we will continue to put people first by exercising sound judgment and implementing measures to safeguard our citizens and visitors. We will be ready when our visitors return.

Is the Caribbean well-positioned to recover compared to other tourism-dependent regions?

The Caribbean is known for being optimistic, resilient, and overcoming various challenges. This reputation holds true even during a global pandemic like COVID-19.

Barbadians, like their regional counterparts, are continuing to rally together to fight COVID-19 in many ways, including volunteering in the medical field to assist the Government of Barbados and adhering to the guidelines established by the health authorities. We have also seen both private groups and individuals mobilize to contribute to the national effort – from making face masks to food donations to the less fortunate in society. Overall, there is a spirit of camaraderie here in Barbados, and we remain hopeful that travel will return, and our economy will be fully restored.

What would you say to travelers who are thinking of making the Caribbean their first post-pandemic trip? Why should they choose Barbados?

The Caribbean remains the safest, easily accessible, and stable destination in this hemisphere. A robust tourism sector is vital to our Caribbean economies, as it provides Governments with opportunities to improve the quality of life of citizens. So, we all have a vested interest in travelers choosing the region as a tourist destination.  Tourists also benefit immensely from our destinations by having opportunities to create memorable moments from a diverse range of activities available to meet the requirements of different types of travelers, from wildly exciting activities for the lionhearted to the peaceful allure of a tropical paradise, the Caribbean has it all!

Even though COVID-19 has caused massive travel disruption across the Caribbean, our pearlescent white beaches, warm waters, beautiful landscapes, and friendly residents await travelers here in Barbados. I encourage everyone who have not yet visited our island to log on to a virtual getaway and explore our island with these videos and this music playlist featuring an eclectic mix of Barbadian-style beats. To our previous guests, whether on a cruise or land-based vacation, there are many new activities to experience on a return trip. For example, just before the travel restrictions, we launched ‘Friday Night Markets’ that was extremely popular amongst cruisers. The event created a truly Barbadian experience with d chefs from local restaurants preparing delicious meals for our guests.

We are working diligently to end the spread of the virus and assure the safety of our citizens and future guests.  We are eagerly looking forward to welcoming guests and for them to experience our isle of paradise, create memorable moments, and ultimately make Barbados a home away from home.

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