There can be no denying that the last twenty-one months have been extremely challenging for the tourism industry. The chorus to our national anthem states, “These fields and hills beyond recall are now our very own.” These words convey that our destiny is within our control. The resilience of our Barbadian people and the work that all players in the tourism industry have undertaken align with this.
In recent months we have observed increasing visitor arrivals, higher accommodation occupancies and the meaningful return of tourism activity such as the enjoyment of Friday night Bajan cuisine and cultural expressions at Oistins. The increasing tourism activity translates into more persons working in the tourism industry which provides for greater economic activity. The signs of the recovery are evident but the threat from COVID-19, complicated by the emergence of variants, signals that the road to recovery will be challenging and require our courage, determination and confidence.
The recovery of the tourism industry requires the continued collaboration among Government, the private sector and labour. We must deepen our dialogue at the Social Partnership and intensify our engagement with our varying constituent members as we work together with a greater purpose to overcome the many challenges that we must confront. In an environment which is unpredictable and where tourism destinations are all aggressively seeking to sway visitors to their countries, we must act in a timely and decisive manner.
Our source market tourism partners continue to inform us that Barbados is the number one desired destination in this region. This is reflected in the significant airlift which we have been able to attract back to Barbados. It is interesting to note that worldwide there has been a return of approximately 60 per cent of the 2019 global flights, while Barbados is realizing a return of more than 80 per cent of the airlift it had in 2019.
The UK and US airlift are significant with new airlift such as KLM Airlines out of Amsterdam, Aer Lingus out of Manchester and Virgin Atlantic out of Edinburgh. This is bolstered by flights of British Airways out of Gatwick and Heathrow, Virgin Atlantic out of Heathrow and Manchester, the American Airlines double daily out of Miami, JetBlue out of New York and Boston along with Air Canada and WestJet flights out of Toronto. The return of airlift to Barbados being higher than the global average demonstrates significant confidence in Barbados as a tourism destination.
The availability of seats is critical to the resurgence of the Barbados tourism industry, but the demand for, and the filling of these seats are vitally important. The loads on aircraft into Barbados are extremely high with many flights arriving completely full and several of these are from the UK and the US. There is also excitement related to the tourism potential with Africa and the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
As we endeavour to facilitate sustainable growth of our tourism industry, we must ensure that the new tourism growth opportunities are fully exploited. In the past ,we have focused heavily on the North American and European markets but there exists great potential in other regions of the world.
Additionally, with the further expansion of the tourism industry, it is also critical that we strengthen linkages with sectors such as manufacturing, agriculture and the cultural industries.
During this COVID-19 pandemic, there have been numerous comments concerning the need to diversify the Barbados economy and to eliminate the heavy reliance on tourism. While diversification is welcomed and as we determine where those efforts will be focused, our tourism partners will continue to work to provide greater economic benefits to other sectors through strengthening linkages and greater collaboration.
Today, as we celebrate our 55th Anniversary of Independence, we also change from a constitutional monarchy to a Republic. Barbados now has a Barbadian as our Head of State. This signals our continuing maturity and demonstrates the ability of Barbados to exercise full control of its destiny.
On November 30, 1966, the Union Jack was lowered and the Barbados flag with the vertical triband of ultramarine and gold, with the black trident head on the gold band, was raised. This signalled the birth of an independent nation, Barbados, and the severing of the colonial past.
As a Republic nation, we should expand our scope and vision to embrace a global perspective and recognise that our continued growth and development requires us to create new partnerships and deepen our relationships in countries and markets that we have traditionally not embraced as meaningfully as we could.
Today there are vast opportunities for our tourism industry and for Barbados. The convergence of possibilities for tourism and Barbados are accessible through the non-traditional approaches and the embracing of new methodologies and modalities. The potential for sustainable growth that fosters prosperity is possible but will not be achieved without the inclusion and participation of all Barbadians, regardless of their age, creed, gender or social standing.
In addition to the opening of new tourism markets and the focusing on green and blue growth to ensure sustainable tourism development, the development of human capital remains a critical and vital element necessary for the success of businesses.
Let us today, on Independence Day and as we begin the journey as a Republic, embrace change and be bold and courageous as we pursue the opportunities available for sustainable growth and ensure that there is inclusive development to the benefit of all Barbadians.
Today we express congratulations to Her Excellency the Most Hon. Dame Sandra Prunella Mason, FB, GCMG, DA, SC on being sworn in as the first President of a Republic Barbados.
We also take this opportunity to convey our gratitude to the hard-working men and women in the tourism industry who every day give of their best to ensure that Barbados continues to be a destination loved and sought after by persons throughout the globe. The commitment and dedication of these persons along with the relationships which they establish and nurture, contribute significantly to the high repeat visitor factor we enjoy.
We also wish to recognise, acknowledge and say thank you to the COVID-19 front line workers for their continued dedication and steadfastness in the fight against this pandemic. We are indebted to each of you for your commitment and sacrifice.
To all Barbadians, friends and visitors, we wish you a Happy 55th Anniversary of Independence. May God continue to bless our nation and our people as we pursue the positive transformation and development of our beautiful island home.
Senator Rudy Grant,
CEO -Barbados Hotel and Tourism Association