One of the major selling points of a country’s uniqueness in the world is its places of interest, those natural or man-made attractions that offer an insight into its geography, history and culture.
Barbados is not lacking in such places, but unfortunately, some of our more ambitious projects have not fared very well and we can do much more to make the existing ones more exciting for both citizens and visitors.
Three of the bigger projects to have fallen by the wayside over the past decade are the Graeme Hall Nature Sanctuary, Ocean Park and the Barbados Concorde Experience.
Graeme Hall highlighted the natural beauty of the mangrove eco-system and a sanctuary for exotic birds not normally found in this part of the world. Ocean Park, a grand aquarium of several species of fish including sharks and stingrays, also featured a miniature golf course. The Barbados Concorde Experience, which closed its doors last year, came about when the Government of the day put one of the Concorde airliners on display here after it was retired from service in 2003 and given to Barbados, one of the handful of destinations on its scheduled service.
Graeme Hall’s eco-system has suffered owing to the damaged sluice gate that plays a major role in sustaining it as well as the issues surrounding the South Coast Sewerage Project over the past four years and is no longer a visitor attraction. The aquariums and their occupants at Ocean Park were shipped out of the island years ago and that compound is now used on a limited basis for social events, while the Concorde Experience is scheduled to re-open, but no date has yet been given.
Why did these attractions, which apart from foreign visitor traffic were great for family outings and school field trips, close in the first instance? Were the cost of admission and the cost of maintenance too high? Was it inadequate marketing by their owners?
While answers to these questions remain elusive, our nation’s remaining attractions ought not fall into the same trap if we do things differently.
We can use examples from some of our neighbours to the north and even those on the ground here. For example, Florida residents get significantly discounted rates at Walt Disney World and the other big attractions there, while the same applies to Barbadians who visit the Barbados Museum. Special rates to attractions should also apply to families, schools and community groups including churches.
While we cannot deny the importance of social media, traditional marketing methods including flyers, posters and advertisements in the media are still very useful in getting the word out to the local population.
We expect to see special promotions offering discounted rates on public holidays and during the summer and winter tourist seasons. We are wary that using attractions to hold fetes and other mass entertainment events in order to earn their keep might inadvertently damage either the grounds or the rare and expensive artefacts on display.
In the case of the Barbados Concorde Experience, the planners should focus on the “Barbados Experience” part of the title, since there are Concordes already on display in the UK, United States and France. We suggest the Concorde as centrepiece of a museum of Barbadian aviation history, including where manned flight here first began, the original Seawell airport, the Barbados Light Aeroplane Club, and the history of our own local airline, Caribbean Airways, including its connection to British airline magnate Sir Freddie Laker. Indeed, a museum of transport in Barbados is possible around the Concorde experience, including the old Barbados Government Railway and the schooners that plied their trade between the islands and between Bridgetown and Speightstown.
During the unveiling of a special Blue Plaque to honour cricket’s Three Ws at Kensington Oval last year, Minister of Tourism Kerrie Symmonds suggested that our own cadre of West Indies cricketing greats could schedule time at the Cricket Legends Shop at the Grantley Adams International Airport to sign autographs and take photos with their fans.
We especially believe there is merit in this idea, given the high number of visitors who take photos next to the Right Excellent Sir Garfield Sobers’s statue at Kensington Oval whenever there is an international cricket match on.
The Cricket Legends Museum itself on Fontabelle could also benefit from having its displays augmented with the voices of cricket commentators, including regional icons like Tony Cozier and Reds Perreira, highlighting the great moments in West Indies cricketing history depicted in the photos.
Apart from the attractions in themselves, we can also do miles better with our souvenirs. In the last General Election campaign, City of Bridgetown MP Lt. Col. Jeffrey Bostic suggested making miniature replicas of Lord Nelson’s statue and other famous landmarks and selling them as souvenirs.
Virtually every major city in the world has replicas, as well as paintings and items of clothing depicting their unique architectural structures available in souvenir stores and at the places of interest themselves. We definitely have the artistic talent available here who can do that type of work.
Finally, the long-suffering Pelican Village should be re-imagined as an arts centre, where people interested in all aspects of the arts, both visual and performing, can come and see artists at work and buy some of their products. This perhaps should be the home of the National Art Collection until the much-touted yet much delayed National Art Gallery comes on stream.