Operators of the island’s two main botanical gardens say they are hoping that business will pick up in coming months as they seek to recover from a very dismal two years.
Owner of Hunte’s Gardens Anthony Hunte and curator and head gardener at Andromeda Botanic Gardens Sharon Cooke told Barbados TODAY that since reopening for the past months they have been encouraged by visits from locals, but business was still creeping.
The situation is a lot worse for Andromeda, which does not charge for locals to enter, but encourages a donation. Cooke said since the reopening in November last year business has been gloomy.
Asked about expectations for the summer period she said, “I am expecting an utter disaster because it’s been utter disastrous. I would say we are probably 40 to 60 per cent down to where we were going back to pre-pandemic levels.”
Despite this however, an enthusiastic Cooke said she was just grateful that the educational heritage site can be open to the public once again, as she recalled the four closures that took place last year because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the volcanic ash fall, the freak storm and Hurricane Elsa.
“I am just grateful that we are open. So even though business is really bad today I think we have had five paying people, on Wednesday we had four and the day before we had two. It is a disaster but we are open and I am grateful”, said Cooke.
In relation to Barbadians visiting the St Joseph location, she said “That is the best thing because since we’ve reopened . . . since August 2020 donations from locals have kept us open to pay our gardeners.”
“Barbadian people enjoy being outside. People are outside having picnics and that is how it should be. They should be coming, they should be out, there should be more locals in gardens here than tourists. But if the number of overseas people increases I would be happy because that would give us a little more certainty,” she said.
Cooke noted that the ideal number of gardeners required to comfortably maintain the approximately 6.5 acres of garden space is eight, but currently she was working alongside one full-time and one part-time gardener and some volunteers. She is currently getting some help from University of the West Indies (UWI), Cave Hill Campus students through the national give back programme.
In addition to the fall off in business, Cooke said she was also still awaiting payment from at least one tour partner, who she believe was also having a gloomy period.
Despite the dismal performance however, Cooke said she was not prepared to let the business fail.
“If we made it through 2020 and 2021 I am really positive about the future to be honest, even if it ends up being only locals coming. If they continue to donate we will be fine,” she said.
She told Barbados TODAY she believed other attractions and heritage sites across the island should make it “less prohibitive” for locals to support their businesses all year round.
“They should make it more affordable and more relevant to the people of Barbados,” she said.
On the other hand, Hunte’s Garden, also located in St Joseph, is a different business model with a cover charge for both locals and visitors.
Hunte said he too was satisfied with the number of residents visiting the location especially on the weekends, holidays and their days off from work, with many of them doing picnics.
This attraction reopened to the public at the end November 2020, but not before several shutdowns throughout the year as well.
Hunte said during the lockdown periods he had to sell some items to be able to maintain jobs.
“I never had to lay off anybody. We just worked as normal and when we were given permission to open we opened,” he said. He noted however “We have not returned to 2019 levels and we did not expect to, but we will get back there I am sure next year.”
In relation to the summer period and the absence of at least one ship coming to the island, Hunte told Barbados TODAY that was of no concern to him since “we don’t even get [business from] ships in winter”.
He believed there should be a better way of getting people off the cruise ships and to the attractions across the island as well as other locations such as local rum shops and community-based businesses “with an authentic look”.
“We need a distribution of the business so that everybody gets some,” he said.
Pointing out that every resident should play a part in promoting the island, Hunte said he believed that tax operators and small tour companies were some of the best ambassadors the island could ask for and therefore authorities should treat them better and ensure they had business.
He said one way he was drumming up business for his establishment was through word of mouth, as he encouraged visitors to speak about their experience with other guests and would-be travellers when they return home.
“For me, as far as I can see, it is going to be a great year,” said Hunte. [email protected]