It is already this island’s number one source market for visitors.
However, Minister of Tourism Richard Sealy is not satisfied that the island has fully exploited the commercial potential of the United Kingdom (UK).
As such, he said in welcoming the inaugural Virgin Atlantic (VA) Airbus 300 service from Heathrow to Barbados on Tuesday that Government would continue to execute a “deliberate strategy” to continue to grow the UK market.
Tuesday’s flight, with 247 passengers and 12 crew members, touched down at the Grantley Adams International Airport at about 3:35p.m.
Disembarking passengers arrived to much fanfare, as Bajan folk characters, including stilt walkers, were on hand and the sweet sounds of steel pan music filled the air.
Describing the event as a “pleasant” one, Sealy said he had been trying from the time he took over the tourism portfolio in 2008 to have the Heathrow service introduced, and he regretted that it had not occurred sooner.
“The truth is that the United Kingdom market is our most important market. It is our largest source market,” Sealy acknowledged, adding that “even though there are challenges in the UK market we continue to be very encouraged by what we have seen, and it has been the deliberate strategy of this Government, to see to it that in a market that is our largest source market, that we can continue to get incremental growth.
“That is why the Heathrow flight is so important,” he said during a brief ceremony to welcome the new VA flight.
Sealy, who is also the country’s minister of international transport, also explained that over the years he had been examining the possibility of having new flights from other areas in the UK.
In this regard, he specifically stated that Government would be re-exploring the possibility of having a direct link from Birmingham, while recalling that discussions were held in the past with the Birmingham City Council.
“At the time we were in protection mode and we all know the crisis that the world has seen. Therefore we had to put that plan on pause, but as we go forward in the UK market, . . . our team will look for other avenues in the United Kingdom where we can get some growth. So this fits in with exactly what we have been trying to do as a government,” he said.
At the same time, Sealy gave the assurance that the island was continuing its room stock expansion in order to adequately cater to the expected increase in visitor numbers.
He said despite “slim resources” the Freundel Stuart led administration, which signed an updated air services agreement with the UK government back in February 2016, would continue to do what it had to “with respect to building the brand and making sure that Barbados continues to be the destination of choice for persons from the United Kingdom”.
The Heathrow flight, which will make a twice-weekly trip to Barbados, is the third scheduled service to Barbados out of the UK, with the others coming from Gatwick and Manchester. This will take the number of weekly flights to about 11, and up to 13 when chartered services are included.
Virgin officials said with the added twice-weekly services aboard the Airbus 300, which seats 264 passengers, they were expecting a strong winter tourist season.