The new operators of Barbados’ renowned attraction Harrison’s Cave are extremely optimistic about future prospects for the St Thomas location as they prepare to roll out the highly-anticipated $9 million upgrades.
Group Chief Executive Officer of Chukka Caribbean Adventures Marc Melville said work will begin in August and should last between six to eight months.
Chukka Caribbean Adventures, Jamaica’s largest nature adventure tour operator, took over the management of the Harrison’s Cave attraction from December 1 last year under a 25-year lease arrangement.
With a new logo, the new-look Harrison’s Cave Eco-Adventure Park is to consist of several exciting features including a challenge course, a free fall platform, a children play area, a suspension bridge, cuisine tour, bird aviary, a dry slide, an interactive green monkey experience, a canopy zipline, an infinity pool, among others.
“With this activity profile, we are going to achieve what it is that we set out to do, which was enhance Harrison’s Cave to a place where people who have been before want to come back, and people who don’t just want to experience the cave can spend the day and enjoy it,” he said.
Giving the assurance that the project had not been abandoned, Melville attributed the delay of the upgrades to the pandemic and the resulting number of lockdowns that occurred over the past year.
He said it was decided that the ideal reopening of the cave to the public would be July and the planned development to start a month later.
Harrison’s Cave will reopen to the public on July 2, and individuals are encouraged to make reservations as they continue to observe strict COVID-19 protocols.
Melville explained that work has been taking place “in the background” over the past year, including submission of application for approval from the Town and Country Planning Department.
He pointed out that the company was also busy ensuring it had the requisite information technology platform, sales distribution infrastructure, safety and health teams in place, as well as training of staff.
“We have met with countless stakeholder groups to get their feedback to make sure we are heading in the right direction,” he added.
An upbeat Melville said while he expected a slow start to the return of tourism in the region, he was “quite excited” about what was to come based on the company’s experience in the Jamaica market so far.
In fact, he told reporters on Thursday he felt “unbelievably confident” about what the restart is going to look like in Barbados based on the spend per passenger, which he said had doubled and in some cases, tripled.
“That means people have money in their pockets or they are itching to spend it. That makes us feel good. Component two, the spend per packs on tourist purchase has also gone up materially, which means that people are not coming looking for deals, so to speak. People are here looking for value and we are experiencing this every day,” he said.
He said his confidence in the Harrison’s Cave Eco-Adventure Park was also fueled by the fact that in other Chukka Adventure markets that have already reopened, the capture rate has increased “materially”.
“That tells me that people want to get out. These three major components tell us that once the border has opened up on both sides we feel there is going to be a dramatic increase in arrivals and spend once we are coming out of the pandemic. We almost feel that as sharp as it dropped off we might see it come up in the same way. So that comforts us for our business, it comforts us for Barbados and it comforts us for the Caribbean,” said Melville.
In addition to Barbados and Jamaica, Chukka Caribbean Adventures also has operations in Belize, Dominican Republic and the Turks and Caicos.
“What we have seen in each territory is that the domestic demand is also at a height that we have never seen. Nationals want to get out . . . What we are seeing is that residents and nationals have an unusual appetite to get out and experience the country they were born and raised in,” he said.
Close to 30 of the former Caves Of Barbados Ltd employees have already been rehired as part of the “start-up team”. The employment numbers are expected to reach close to 100 when the upgrades are completed and the operation is in full swing.
Chukka Caribbean Adventures (Barbados) is also expected to officially launch its local foundation and a loyalty programme. (MM)