Tourism officials here believe direct air links between Barbados and Panama will open the door for the growth of genealogy tourism.
The inaugural Copa Airlines flight from Panama City, CM0260, landed at Grantley Adams International Airport at 2 p.m. today, with Barbadian pilot Marc Holder in control and several Panamanian and local tourism officials, including Minister of Tourism and International Transport Kerrie Symmonds, on board.
Symmonds said with over 20,000 Barbadians having migrated to Panama to help build the Panama Canal, which was completed on August 15, 1914, the direct flight was an opportunity for Barbadians to trace their roots.
“It presents Barbados with an excellent opportunity to engage in a type of tourism which allows us to trace our genealogy and visit the places where our forefathers have gone and would have worked,” the minister said, adding that the air link would also make it easier for Barbadians to travel “for the purpose of the ancestral connection [which] is a very rapidly growing niche market in global tourism today”.
The minister said the Copa flight would broaden the island’s tourism market to include not only South America, but untapped markets in the United States, such as Los Angeles, San Francisco and Las Vegas.
“Copa Airlines presents Barbados with substantial opportunities behind the Panama gateway which we did not previously have . . . . As we rethink the way in which we do business and try to diversify the traditional approaches to sourcing our tourism product we recognize Latin America, Central America and beyond are indispensable parts of the future reality for Barbados,” he said.
Symmonds also said Government was considering the establishment of a gateway for cruise tourism outside of the traditional markets.
“The Prime Minister [Mia Mottley] and I while in Florida met with the Florida [Caribbean] Cruise Association and a number of the cruise lines which service this part of the region and we have begun to explore with them the possibility of creating a south-south itinerary which will allow Barbados to be more closely linked to Central and Latin America by way of a cruise line service.” he said.
Meantime, Bernado Ordas, Copa Airlines’ regional manager, said there were high expectations for the new air service, with two flights a week.
“Barbados has now become in Panama a popular destination. With the marketing campaign with BTMI [Barbados Tourism Marketing Inc] we have been really strong in positioning the Barbados brand in Panama and in South America, so you now get to see people in restaurants talking about Barbados and how interested they are learning more about the island,” Ordas said, while predicting that the tourism sector should expect an increase in Panamaians visitors in the coming months.
“It is looking very successful. People from the western United States, Colombia, Argentina, Panama, Brazil, Uruguay [are booking]. Numbers are looking very good with these two weekly flights. I only see this succeeding,” the airline official said.