By Shamar Blunt
Tourism still remains an important part of Barbados’ economic engine, which not only supports numerous jobs, but has been the driving force over several decades to much of the island’s structural development and investment.
Though this is not a new fact to the average local, over the course of the COVID 19 pandemic there has been a renewed push to diversify the economy off the main tourism product, with calls also being made to expand the tourism offerings from just the sun, sand, and sea image.
Director at the locally based international media production company 13 Degrees North Productions Inc., Kerri Birch, has been one of the many voices recently who have renewed calls to not only expand the island’s tourism brand, but to invest in new areas, namely film tourism, which is a specialised form of tourism that capitalises on the interest of visitors to visit destinations which have become popular due to their appearances in film and other media.
During a recent interview with Barbados TODAY, Birch explained that before any real movement could be seen in film tourism in the island, the perception of film and content creation in Barbados must change.
“I think that in Barbados we tend to still think of film as a hobby and not necessarily as a business, and because of that, it has caused this stagnation in the perception of what film is and how beneficial film could be in the Barbadian economy essentially.
“We usually structure it around culture – so we think film is a cultural art, obviously it is culture, it is an art form, but we think of it as a preservation of culture, as opposed to also thinking of the spin-off effects that films can have. Even for a tourism spin-off effect, for what we [13 Degrees North] do with production facilitation, when someone comes here and they are going to film on island, they are consuming everything on island, so we are looking at accommodation, transportation, we are looking at the use of the banking system, we are looking at catering, and we are also providing jobs for Barbadians here to actually work on set as well, with them gaining additional skill sets,” she explained.
Birch insisted that though Barbados remained a desirable destination with visitors who want to enjoy their time on a tropical island, film producers often have budgets to balance, a fact that cannot be ignored when one considers the large amounts of financing needed for individual projects.
“If we are looking at building out a film industry, one of the main things that usually stops crews from coming here to shoot is our lack of film incentives.
At the end of the day Barbados can be a very expensive place to film – what we need to do is to start by pushing what we have here, we have beautiful locations that are untapped, we do have a skilled workforce here that once more crews start coming to the island, they will gain even more experience.
“What happens is that when persons have their budgets, even if Barbados is appealing, you are going to go to the places that tell you ‘hey, you can get back 10 per cent or 20 per cent’ if I go and film over here.”
On the feasibility of a new push into film tourism, Birch emphasised that though the idea may be new here to the average individual, the niche market has been running for some time, but on a small scale.
“I think that [film tourism] is feasible because we have seen it in action. With the Netflix show Outer Banks coming here for two years in a row, each year that crew is here for a month, while utilising our tourism product.
Brooklynettes, cheerleading team for the Brooklyn Nets basketball team, come here every year and do their calendar shoots all over the island… these things are done in pockets and too far and few in between, what we need is to make it something is coming in constantly, and the only way we can do that is to provide the money to promote Barbados as a filming location, and hopefully in the future, as a place with incentives that would entice these productions to come here.”