Barbados Briefing: Downtime To Be Used To Improve Tourism Offering
Anna Kroupina, Open Jaw
Prior to the coronavirus pandemic, Barbados was on a "fantastic" growth trajectory, both in terms of visitor numbers and tourism spend, said the island's Minister of Tourism and International Transport Kerrie Symmondsduring a webinar yesterday to which Canadian media were invited.
As could be expected, COVID-19 has since "derailed" that climb, said Symmonds, affecting all sectors of tourism.
"At the international transport level, at this time of year, we would be doing 54-55 movements of aircraft every single day. That has all dried up and all the business that is appended to that has dried up," Symmonds told trade and media during the webinar.
"In the long stay-tourism sectors, hotels have mostly all closed, ground transportation has come to a halt... All companies related to the tourism sector have been brought to a standstill."
Tourism is a major component of the island country's economy, accounting for 40% of its GDP, and about 30% of its workforce.
In 2019, Barbados welcomed 85,774 arrivals from Canada. That's a 30% increase over 2014.
Travel trade continues to be a "pivotal plank" in assisting Barbados Tourism Marketing Inc. (BTMI) in promoting Destination Barbados, the tourism organization's Canada Director, Peter Mayers, told Open Jaw in an email.
"Our trade partners will be critical to the success of the destination as the influence of the Travel Agent Community have been predicted by all experts to increase in a substantial way. Consequently, our trade focus will revolve on increasing loyalty for the destination while ensuring that we attain higher production levels," added Mayers.
"The Barbados Elite Club continues to be a valuable tool which will be fully exploited to educate the Agent community as well as incentivize them to generate increased bookings to the destination."
The country is on lockdown until May 3. So far, it has 80 confirmed cases of coronavirus, 39 recoveries and six deaths.
With travel still largely at a standstill globally, Symmonds said Barbados has created a tourism recovery task force and will be using this downtime to improve its tourism offering.
"We want to come back bigger and better than we were before. And it means using the downtime very productively," said Symmonds.
Efforts include training the hospitality workforce to be more efficient and "operate at a higher level", improving hotel infrastructure and accessibility and establishing stringent health and safety standards.
"I think it's also a golden opportunity for us to build some fundamentals in terms of standards and operating procedures. In Barbados, we've done this well but we can do it better, and we will," Symmonds added.
As COVID-19 ushers in a new focus on social distancing and health and safety, this might mean new etiquette to follow in hotels, restaurants, airports and airlines.
"There will have to be protocols. The social distancing inherent in the COVID-19 scenario requires us to rethink a number of things that we do. Again I think it's an opportunity for us to increase the quality of our service delivery," Symmonds said.
The island is also working to strengthen its cruise partnerships.
As some countries turned their backs on incoming cruise ships during the height of the pandemic, Barbados was the only eastern Caribbean country to open its shores to ships, the Minister of Tourism said.
"For us, the porting business is very critical. We had to take a very stout and robust position with regards to the cruise sector. Barbados took a conscious and deliberate decision that we would not [turn away cruise ships] and that we would treat the cruise sector as partners should treat each other," he said.
"Therefore, we facilitated cruise ships, some of which were not even on our itinerary, provided them safe harbour, and allowed their passengers and crew to be repatriated. That is the spirit of partnership within which we have wished to operate with them."
There is still a long road ahead before Barbados is back on the track it was on before coronavirus struck, Symmonds said. He foresees a "subdued amount of business" for the next three to six months in Barbados, and it'll be the luxury long-stay villa sector that he sees bouncing back first.
"I foresee that summer is pretty much going to be a challenge for the industry. Beyond summer is the reality of a more robust recovery. Obviously, a lot of this is subject to what happens in some of our major source markets," Symmonds said.
"We walk with caution. We are very optimistic but we prepare for the worst."
Anna Kroupina Journalist
Anna is OJ's newest member and she joins the team as a writer/reporter. She co-writes the daily news and covers events. Although she's new to the industry, pursuing a career path in travel/tourism has been a goal since her first family road trip to the Florida Keys sparked a desire to discover the world and this exhilarating, fast-paced industry.