by Marlon Madden
Barbados welcomed some 42,421 stopover visitors in 2021, representing a mere 20 per cent of the 2019 record visitor arrival numbers (219,605), and a decline from 2020 arrivals. However, Governor of the Central Bank of Barbados Cleviston Haynes is upbeat that the prospects for tourism this year were looking a lot brighter.
In fact, with the island playing host to two major cricket series this year, there is an anticipated boost in visitor arrivals from the UK, one of the island’s main tourism source markets.
“All indicators are for a strong, though partial, recovery in the first quarter, aided by the favourable impact of the influx of visitors for the English cricket tours, the expansion of airlift into the country and the positive benefits of enhancements to the tourism plant,” said Haynes during a recent presentation of the CentralBank report on the economy.
Haynes noted that in addition to the just concluded five-match T20 International Series between West Indies and England in Bridgetown, the island was in line to welcome about 5,000 more English visitors in March for a Test match. “I think this will have a positive impact on our tourism because on the one hand, it fills rooms, but when they come, they spend and, therefore, our small business sector benefits from their presence,” said Haynes.
Taking a look back at the performance of the island’s tourism sector over the last year, the Central Bank Governor pointed out that its revival strengthened during the last quarter, adding that long-stay tourist arrivals in December were at their post-COVID peak, reaching 47 per cent of the corresponding pre-pandemic level of 2019. This was as a result of the relaxation of global travel restrictions, the phased reduction in health protocols and pent-up demand contributed to a rebound in international travel.
The Central Bank noted that increased airlift, including from new non-regional markets, supported the recovering demand for the destination over the last three quarters of last year.
However, the steep fall in arrivals during the first quarter of last year, following the 2020 end-of-year spike in domestic COVID-19 infections, outweighed the gradually improved performance over the last three quarters. “The overall decline for the year was 26 per cent and arrivals were only 20 per cent of 2019 levels.
The United Kingdom and United States remained the main source markets, accounting for 74 per cent of arrivals.
The improved market share reflects the underperformance of the Canadian and Caribbean markets, with regional travel suffering from reduced airlift and the lack of stimulus of traditional cultural and sporting activities,” Haynes reported. Last year, Barbados welcomed a total of 143,509 tourist arrivals, compared with 207,378 visitors in 2020.
The UK accounted for the bulk of arrivals (63,207).
This was followed by the US with 42,521, the Caribbean with 16,577 and Canada with 10,381 arrivals.
Barbados welcomed 5,303 visitors from Europe last year, and 5,620 from other markets.
The impact of the gradual rise in arrivals on the accommodation sector was uneven. Improved occupancy and room rates, particularly in the higher priced market segments, raised revenue.
Hoteliers also increased the availability of room stock, including from the introduction of new plant.
Education tourism and the remote worker programme helped to boost the ancillary sectors that were so damaged by the fall-off in arrivals. Cruise activity restarted, but fresh COVID outbreaks on cruise ships slowed the pace of the recovery of this segment.