Barbados has not been hit by a hurricane since 1955 and has not been affected by either of the recent mega-storms, Irma and Maria but it is still suffering from their impact.
According to Petra Roach, director, USA for the Barbados Tourism Marketing Inc., confusion with the island of Barbuda, and general lack of knowledge about Caribbean geography, has had an impact on its tourism outlook.
“We are totally empathetic with the victims of these storms and are very proud to be part of the Caribbean region,” Roach told TMR, “but travel agents should recognize that we are not in the hurricane belt.”
“It is business as usual for us with lots of events that agents could package,” she added.
Prior to the hurricanes, Barbados had been enjoying positive news on the tourism front.
It has seen additional routes recently with more to come in the near future, including a once-weekly flight out of Newark this season that will start Nov. 19 and run through April. If successful, that service will be expanded, according to Roach.
Air arrivals from the U.S. were up 20% in the first four months of 2017. The U.S. is the island’s second biggest market after the U.K. but is growing rapidly. In addition, cruise passenger arrivals rose more than 25% during the same period.
On the hotel front, the 220-suite Sandals Royal Barbados will open in December (the second for the brand on the island) with a number of Sandals firsts: first rooftop pool and bar, first 4-lane bowling alley, first men’s only barbershop and two new restaurant concepts – American Tavern and Chi Asian.
In 2019, the 450-room Sam Lord’s Castle Barbados, A Wyndham Grand Resort, will open on the site of Sam Lord’s Castle. It will be the first Wyndham-branded resort on the island. Also coming are Hyatt and Beaches properties.
Meanwhile, Barbados maintains its traditional appeal as a comfortable, accessible destination, said Roach.
“It’s like a familiar denim jacket that you feel good in,” she said. “It always gives you a good feeling to wear. We have 42% repeat business because people feel comfortable coming here.”
Roach also attributes the island’s appeal to the fact that it has a high standard of living and literacy rate, which results in an “absence of barriers between visitors and locals.”
“There are no private beaches and we have a lot of history with the U.S.,” she said.
In recent years, Barbados has worked to move beyond being a sun and sea vacation – promoting its culture, history and cuisine. “We have one of the top dining scenes in the Caribbean, with incredible seafood,” said Roach.
Among the festivals that Roach believes are good opportunities for agents to package are the Barbados Food & Rum Festival (November 16-18, 2017) and the Barbados Annual Cricket Extravaganza in July each year.
The island is also targeting the family market. This past summer saw the first “Brilliant Barbados: Kids Stay and Play free” campaign with youngsters 16 and under staying free in participating hotels and playing free at participating attractions when accompanied by a paying adult. The promotion ends Oct. 31.
Barbados has a travel agent specialist program called Barbados Elite Club, offering education and support for travel professionals.