The dreaded COVID-19 pandemic may have thrown tourism into a tailspin but it is not stopping local officials from finding ways to help boost visitor arrivals.
On Tuesday, Barbados welcomed the inaugural Inter-Caribbean Airways flight from Grenada. It touched down at the Grantley Adams International Airport (GAIA) around 12:10 p.m.
The 30-seater, Embraer EMB 120 aircraft and its passengers did not receive the usual colourful fanfare associated with the welcoming of a new flight at the GAIA, but officials have made one thing clear – the new flight will help to boost visitor arrivals and fill a major gap in the travel industry created with the recent decision to liquidate the longstanding regional airline LIAT.
Gilles Bussutil, Eastern Caribbean Operations Director for Inter-Caribbean Airways, said the company was making sure it helps Barbados to connect to the rest of the world.
“With the start of our operations today we commit to providing you with a widely-connected network of possibilities to the rest of the Caribbean, Central and South America. Connecting you with the Caribbean is our mission,” he said.
Bussitil promised that the Turks and Caicos Islands-based airline, which was formed 29 years ago, will help to provide jobs.
He added that with a growing fleet of 30-seat and 50-seat passenger turboprop aircrafts officials were already looking at increasing the number of flights in and out of Bridgetown.
“Our planned expansion from BGI will establish new opportunities as well as tourism connectivity for inbound traffic for our business opportunities from Europe, North America and South America, while supporting the local Barbadian economy and stimulating career options for employment in the region,” he said.
The airline is starting with two daily flights from Bridgetown to Castries, St Lucia; one daily flight to Roseau, Dominica; and ten weekly flights to St George’s, Grenada.
He said: “We are introducing St Vincent and many more flights in the coming months.”
Bussutil said while people are continuing to be cautious about travelling, there was already tremendous interest in the new service, adding that the airline officials were helping to stimulate the demand and build routes.
Minister of Maritime Affairs and Blue Economy Kirk Humphrey, who was filling in for Minister of Tourism Senator Lisa Cummins, welcomed the new airline, saying it was another cog in the wheel of Barbados’ overall efforts to revive the struggling tourism industry and make Barbados the southern hub to connect to the rest of the world.
Stating that he believed the partnership would be a lasting one, Humphrey acknowledged that industry workers needed to ensure high quality service at all times.
“We are driven by the idea that people matter and for us this partnership will be about bringing people closer together because we are strong believers in regionalism, strong believers in the idea that we are stronger together and by working with you, we will make that relationship more of a possibility,” said Humphrey.
Pointing to last year’s increase in long-stay arrivals from the Caribbean to Barbados over 2018, Humphrey said: “As the Caribbean becomes more of a natural market, we must be able to move people. The Prime Minister already mentioned the idea that collectively we need to review the taxes. We have to make regional travel more affordable.
“We also have to make the experience as pleasant as possible. In so doing, we all have to bring our best game. We have to offer the best service, we have to make sure that we do it in a way that reflects our values and I am sure Inter-Caribbean will bring its best game,” said Humphrey, who called on all visitors to the island to adhere to the protocols put in place.