Tourism officials are predicting hotel occupancy levels up to 40 per cent by the end of the year, based on forward bookings.
At the same time, Minister of Tourism Senator Lisa Cummins said she was “heartened” that several potential investors were lining up to pump money into infrastructure projects here.
She made the revelation during the virtual Global Business Week public discussion forum on Monday evening. The theme was Diversity of Global Business: the Barbados Unique Perspective.
Cummins said work has already begun to diversify the tourism product, adding that in addition to the use of virtual reality technology, her Ministry was working assiduously to forge greater linkages between tourism and the agriculture and manufacturing sectors.
In relation to a rebound of the tourism sector, Cummins told the Barbados International Business Association (BIBA) event that American Airlines, which is now offering five weekly flights from Miami to Bridgetown, could increase that to two daily flights from Miami “in the coming weeks”, and then reopen other gateways.
She also reported that WestJet out of Canada and Lufthansa out of Germany were expected to return to Barbados “shortly”.
“We are also preparing to welcome back Copa Airlines and we have a range of airlines coming to the island from the Caribbean,” she said.
“So, in terms of travel, you have the demand which is continuing to grow. We have bookings which are indicating that the demand is also expected to increase and the occupancy rates are expected to reach at least a minimum of 40 per cent in the high season and then continue to climb into January.”
The tourist winter season officially begins December 15 and runs until April 15.
Cummins said in relation to investments, she has been having numerous meetings with individuals who have expressed an interest in the Barbados market.
She explained that in addition to the highly touted hotel projects, there were “a number of potential investors who have expressed a range of different types of interest in new projects”.
“For example, there are people who are expressing interest in coming to Barbados to invest in eco-tourism. New specialty facilities are also being looked at,” disclosed Cummins, without saying what the level of investment could look like.
“So the investment climate, while dampened, is significant.”
The tourism minister said the growing investment interest showed that the island had things to offer such as “stability, high skilled individuals and good corporate infrastructure”.
Investment in several projects were put on pause in Barbados when COVID-19 surfaced here back in March. And while officials were hoping that most of those projects would resume or start around June, several of them are yet to be put in motion.
Cummins also pointed out that new research by her Ministry would help authorities identify and capitalise on new travel, investment and business opportunities from traditional markets as well as new ones, including Asia and Africa.
“What we are looking to do now is overlay that potential with a review of our existing bilateral agreements with these jurisdictions and then mining it down to the company opportunities that may be derived from this. So, we are taking a detailed, disaggregated approach,” she said, adding that an initial report was presented to her this week.
Cummins said it is estimated that some 10 000 tourism workers are still out of employment.
Meanwhile, Economics Lecturer at the University of the West Indies (UWI), Cave Hill Campus, Dr Antonio Alleyne, said he was concerned that while development of the island’s tourism and financial services sectors has come a long way, there continues to be “a lack of diversification” with Barbados continuing to focus too much on the same traditional markets.
Welcoming the planned market diversification, however, Alleyne said this would allow the sector and the economy to mitigate the impact of adversity and quickly recover from future challenges.
“If we target multiple markets, the impact on one typical market would not be hard felt as we have seen over the years. Case in point, the current situation,” he said.
He commended Government for its drive as it relates to bilateral trade agreements with other countries, but also said he was now concerned whether local businesses take advantage of those business opportunities.
In relation to the investors expressing an interest in Barbados, Alleyne cautioned that any potential investment should be carefully weighed against possible concessions and the benefits the country would get once those investments were made.