Thousands of tourists, mostly from England, descended on Barbados over the past week to take in some of the action at Kensington Oval, where the West Indies and England enjoyed a full house and a rousing welcome for the start of the Wisden Test series.
It is estimated that around 7000 visitors flocked to the island for the opening Test which began on Wednesday.
With ‘The Mecca’ also slated to hold two One Day Internationals on February 20 and 22, chief executive officer of Cricket West Indies Johnny Grave estimated that Barbados would gain more than US $40 million as a result of the influx of visitors.
All British Airways and Virgin Atlantic flights are fully booked for those two matches and almost all of the hotels are boasting 100 per cent occupancy.
So much so, that some travellers stranded at the Grantley Adams International Airport waiting for their flight were forced to sleep in the departure lounge as they could find no accommodation.
At one point, talk was rife that ‘Test cricket was dead’ and that the shorter versions of the game, especially 20/20 cricket, would soon take centrestage.
It is both heartening and refreshing to see that there is still interest, among both young and old, in the most genuine form of cricket. Since Wednesday, Fontabelle has been a flurry of activity, with businesses in the area welcoming the extra activity with open arms.
It is hard to remember the last time Kensington Oval was packed to capacity, so much to the point that an additional stand had to be built and one stand had to be extended to accommodate additional spectators for this match.
It is equally hard to also remember the last time a Test match at Kensington was televised live on Channel 8 because all of the tickets had been sold out.
We recall with shame the Test series last year against Bangladesh, when Kensington Oval was practically a ghost town with only a handful of spectators on hand to view the proceedings and cheer on the teams.
The large crowds this week brought back fond memories of the 80s and 90s when thousands of fans from across the Caribbean piled into the Oval to watch the likes of Desmond Haynes, Gordon Greenidge, Malcolm Marshall, Brian Lara, Clive Lloyd and Garfield Sobers rip the opposition apart.
However, as expected, the regional team’s fall from the greatest cricketing nation status to being one of the poorest, led to a reduced following, as fans grew despondent at the continuous poor performances.
Surprisingly, while most persons would have predicted an easy win for third-ranked England over the home side which is embarrassingly ranked eighth out of ten sides, and which failed to win a single Test match on their recent tour of the subcontinent against India and Bangladesh, the Windies have produced a stellar performance thus far to take control of the match.
And even as the Barbados Tourism Product Authority and the Barbados Tourism Marketing Inc prepare to merge next month, this should serve as yet another reminder that sports tourism can be very lucrative, when properly marketed.
We sincerely hope that this leaner outfit will still be able to expend resources — financial and human — to ensure that the sporting experience in Barbados is on its return to prominence. This rise should also be backed by efforts to explore newer audiences to share the sport of kings with, as well as a few shameless plugs for indigenous sporting fare, such as road tennis.