The multi-million dollar upgrades at Barbados’ premier tourist attraction are taking shape as work progresses smoothly but a little behind schedule due to the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Harrison’s Cave Eco-Adventure Park, which is now being operated by CHUKKA Caribbean Adventures (Barbados) Ltd., a subsidiary of the Jamaica-based CHUKKA Caribbean Adventures, is carrying out a US$5 million (BDS($10 million) upgrade.
Officials reported on Tuesday that phase one of the improvement work on the St Thomas attraction should be completed by mid-June 2022.
Chief Executive Officer of CHUKKA Caribbean Adventures Marc Melville said just about US$2.5 million of the allocated investment has been pumped into the project so far, while adding that he expected a major jump in business as a result of the changes in the COVID-19 entry protocols to the island.
In addition to the cave, visitors will now have the opportunity to enjoy three different ziplines, a nature walk, a rum cellar and tasting room and the obstacle challenge course, which forms phase one of the project.
The Bajan chattel house themed video information room should be ready by July and the approximately 30-foot infinity pool is scheduled to be completed by the end of October. Meanwhile, the enhanced interpretation centre, a suspended bridge, a dry slide, additional gazebos, an enhanced interpretation centre, an aviary and a renewed retail centre are to form phase two of the project, which is expected to be completed by December 2023.
Following a tour of the facility on Tuesday, Melville told members of the media that the COVID pandemic was a “big” setback to the project, but said it was still within budget.
“The next [setback] is the global shortage of goods and services and shipping problems that have been huge for us. The Omicron [variant of the COVID-19] really put a spoke in us . . . and then the third thing that affected us was the differing entry protocols for different countries. We have no control over those things,” he said.
However, he said since the reopening of the facility in mid-July last year business has been great, with tremendous support from locals.
“For this coming summer I believe we will see the same with the new packages we have to offer as of June 15, which will be packages to include the zipline, challenge course and Mount Gay experience, in addition to the ten other elements that we have done to the park to improve its overall experience since we have reopened,” said Melville.
He welcomed changes to the island’s COVID-19 protocols which take effect on Wednesday, while pointing to the CHUKKA Jamaica experience where there was a jump in business as a result of the increase in visitor arrivals following a relaxation of the entry protocols there.
“We are expecting a 20 point jump as a result,” he said.
On any given day, the Harrison’s Cave Eco-Adventure Park will be able to accommodate up to 2,000 people and will eventually go back to hosting various events such as weddings, graduations and other special activities.
Melville promised that the location will get various tweaks at intervals to ensure that the experience is always inviting and fresh.
Current staff complement stands at 67, and more are expected to be employed as the project progresses.
Country Manager of CHUKKA Caribbean (Barbados (Ltd). Andrea Franklin, said when the new activities are opened on June 15, a revamped summer programme will be rolled out for locals and visitors. There will also be a special summer school tour programme in association with the Barbados Tourism Marketing Inc.
Minister of Tourism and International Transport Senator Lisa Cummins lauded the CHUKKA team for their “outstanding imagination and creativity”, saying she was extremely excited about the progress of the upgrades.
“We are excited at the idea that persons coming to Barbados getting off a cruise ships, long-stay visitors, and Barbadians understanding and learning more about what they have to offer to others,” said Cummins.
“I believe the millions of dollars being invested in this location will also be an opportunity for others to look at investment opportunities in existing tourism attractions as well as new tourism attractions. This is exactly what Barbados needs, to have partners like CHUKKA and all of the [partners] who come to the table and put their money where their mouth is and say ‘we have a vision and we are willing to invest in that vision and work with Barbados and we are willing to create commercial opportunities’,” she said.