After taking a battering over the past 18 months from the effects of the pandemic with current spikes in coronavirus cases resulting in fresh curfew measures, Barbados and other regional tourist destinations are reporting a slow recovery in tourism with a bright outlook.
Minister of Tourism and International Transport Senator Lisa Cummins said for the first nine months of this year Barbados welcomed close to 50,000 visitors. This represented 10,000 fewer than what the island would normally welcome per month.
“Since January up until this month we have had just under 50,000 arrivals. That is considerably less than what we are used to having…Just to put that into perspective, this time around 2019, we had just around 60,000 visitors for the month,” said Cummins.
For the first nine months of 2019, the country welcomed a record 522,583 tourists.
Cummins said the figures were reflective of the over 90 per cent decline in visitor arrivals from Barbados’ main international source markets for the year so far, adding that there were also major declines from regional source markets.
However, she remained undaunted given the strong bookings for the upcoming winter season and increased airlift to Bridgetown.
In fact, she said one major bright spark for the local tourism industry was the fact that flights that were now coming to the island were doing so at full capacity.
Additionally, Senator Cummins said the Welcome Stamp Initiative, which allows individuals and families from around the world to live and work in Barbados for up to a year initially, has been filling some of the gap created by the falloff in short-term visitor arrivals and spending.
Under that programme, which was introduced a year ago, Barbados has welcomed about 5,000 people to date.
“Even in the last few months we have been seeing more persons continuing to make their way to Barbados as part of the Welcome Stamp programme. We have approximately just under 3,000 persons who have come with their spouses and around 1,100 who have come with their dependents.
“So we have been able to compensate for the loss in short-term travel by bringing instead long-term visitors who are staying with us for a year or more,” she said.
In a breakdown of the Welcome Stamp arrivals, Cummins said 34 per cent of these arrivals are from the United States, 24 per cent from the UK and the remainder from Canada, Africa and Europe.
Senator Cummins shared the information on Tuesday during a virtual state of the industry media update, which was organised by the Caribbean Tourism Organisation (CTO).
She gave the assurance that tourism marketing officials were preparing to “go on the road” in the coming weeks in the US to engage in “a number of interventions” aimed at wooing more visitors to the island.
She said a full audit of all tourism offerings on island was now completed and they would be incorporated into the global marketing of brand Barbados.
“Beyond airlift and capacity for November, we are looking for a strong winter season and we are hopeful that we are also able to see a number of key initiatives coming into the industry specifically from cruise and a number of investment-type activities that we will share, anchored around the aviation sector,” said Cummins.
Barbados and several of its Caribbean neighbours have seen an uptick in positive COVID-19 cases in recent weeks, fuelled especially by the highly contagious Delta variant. This has resulted in the tightening of measures to combat the spread of the virus.
However, regional tourism officials told the online forum that they were not daunted by the current developments, while indicating that they were ensuring strict adherence to COVID-19 protocols.
“I think the curfew was the last thing that any of us wanted to have to put in place, especially given the numbers we are seeing now, but as soon as it can be lifted, I give you the commitment that the Government of Barbados is actively going to be looking at having it removed,” said Cummins.
Jamaica’s Director of Tourism Donovan White reported that for the January to August period, Kingston welcomed 829,000 visitors, which was “slightly ahead of projections”.
“We anticipate that growth will continue through to the end of the year and, all things being equal, we anticipate having a successful winter tourist season that will start 2022 off well,” said White.
He said Jamaica continued to review its travel restriction on Trinidad and Tobago, saying it was a decision based on the assessment of medical professionals.
Curacao, Dutch St Maarten, St Eustatius, St Martin and Belize have also reported a consistent rise in visitor arrivals for the year, with a positive outlook for the upcoming winter season as they too continue to review health and safety measures.
Chief Executive Officer of the Antigua and Barbuda Tourism Authority Colin James indicated that July and August have been especially busy for that destination, with visitor arrivals surpassing 2019’s when the island had a good year in arrivals.
He said the rebound was due to strong marketing efforts and engagement with industry partners.
“Also the fact that this is a safe destination has helped to fuel the demand,” said James.