Barbados guide 2016: Tourism
Shining Barbados: It has been a tough few years, but Barbados’ tourism industry is back in good health again, with the number of short-stay and long-stay visitors, seeking all-year sun and the ability to blend business and leisure, rising fast.
Since independence from the UK in 1966, Barbados has worked hard to create a sturdy, self-reliant and diversified economy. It boasts a fast-growing professional business services sector and a vibrant retail sector, the envy of the Caribbean.
But it is tourism that makes Barbados stand out from the crowd. In many ways, this is four islands in one: a rugged inland filled with rum distilleries and verdant uplands; and three coastlines, each with a different face, from the wild cliffs of the east, to the surfers’ paradise of the south, to the gentle Caribbean-style westerly tides.
There’s something here for every visitor, from long-term sun-seekers to hop-in-hop-out business travellers. The brand new Sandals Barbados Resort at St Lawrence Gap, set to open in the final quarter of 2016 at a cost of $400 million, offers an all-in-one holiday experience. Other major tourism development projects under way include the new Hyatt hotel, also set to open in late 2016, at a cost of $250 million, and the renovation of Sam Lord’s Castle, named after one of the island’s most famous buccaneers.
A trio of boutique hotels on the west coast – Colony Club, Tamarind and The House – also provide six-star luxury for the global elite. Those seeking a more rugged or more homely experience can head for the Sea-U Guest House on the east coast, a haven for those recovering from long-term ailments, or Little Arches, a south-coast institution boasting one of the island’s best rooftop restaurants, Café Luna.
No visit is complete without a trip to Cuz’s Fish Shack, located on Pebbles Beach, a stone’s throw from the Hilton, for one of their famous fried ‘cutter’ sandwiches. Finally, there’s the famous Fish Fry at Oistins Bay Gardens: visit on Friday or Saturday night to sample genuine local Bajan cuisine and culture.
To Dustin Delany, managing partner at Delany Finisterre, a Barbados-based international law firm, the strength of the tourism industry is inextricably linked to the success of the wider economy. “Barbados’ success continues to be driven by its multi-faceted economy, which is based on a tourism sector that caters to all classes, including an ultra-luxury sector serving high-net-worth individuals,” he says. Come winter, the hotels fill up with the sun-deprived looking to mix business with pleasure.
Barbadians are a pragmatic and resilient people. The years since the financial crisis have been tough at times, as many British and American holidaymakers – the main sovereign sources of revenue – stayed at home, saving the pennies and cents.
But the sun is shining again on the resurgent sector. The number of long-stay tourists jumped 5.3% year on year in the first half of 2016, to 319,700, according to Central Bank of Barbados data, boosted from stronger tourism numbers from the US, UK, and the wider Caribbean region.
DeLisle Worrell, governor of the central bank of Barbados, identifies the latter point as a key reason why tourists return to the island again and again. Too often, sun-drenched corners of the world are targets of gangs and petty thieves – or worse. Barbados enjoys a low crime rate, and is, above all, an extremely safe place to visit. “Barbados scores highly on the reliability of its police service, and in other aspects of its safety and security,” Worrell says.
And the industry’s timely revival has not gone unnoticed. Following an official supervisory trip to the island in May, Judith Gold, deputy division chief at the IMF, noted that last year’s spike in GDP, with economic output rising 0.8% in 2015 on an annualized basis, was “underpinned by a surge in tourism arrivals”.
Gold added: “Growth is projected to increase to 2.1% in 2016, reflecting higher private and public investment, mainly in refurbishing and expanding the tourism stock.” Marlon Yarde, managing director of the Barbados Stock Exchange, notes: “Tourism will always play a major role in the economy of Barbados. The reason for this is simple: Barbados requires foreign exchange to bolster its development.”
The key to the island’s success is its ability to promote its core benefits, while having the flexibility to adapt to the changing needs of both newcomers and regulars. Barbados ranked first out of seven Caribbean nations surveyed in the World Economic Forum’s 2015 Travel and Tourism Competitiveness Report. The WEF highlighted a host of factors central to its success, from good infrastructure and a pristine natural environment to high levels of ICT readiness, mobile phone coverage and hygiene. Barbados also ranked 26th out of the 141 countries assessed in the WEF’s 2015 report in the quality and efficiency of the industry’s worldwide marketing machine.
It’s hard to argue with any of these points. Barbados’ hard-infrastructure ranking, according to Euromoney Country Risk data, has improved consistently and its soft-infrastructure rating has improved every quarter between June 2013 and June 2016.
And wherever you go, there’s always something to do, from polo and golf, to cricket at the Kensington Oval, one of the game’s greatest venues, to tours of the Barbados Garrison and the country’s parliament, one of the oldest in the world. Medical tourism is also a growing business: the ill have been coming here for centuries to recuperate from serious injury, to ameliorate the effects of Parkinson’s disease, or just to let the mind heal from the stresses and strains of office life.
Ultimately, Barbados succeeds because it is always seeking to improve. central bank governor Worrell notes the importance of constantly paying “scrupulous attention to maintaining standards”, and addressing competitiveness weaknesses, from the time it takes to start a business, to making it easier to hire foreign workers. After a tough few years, it is clear that the sun is shining again on Barbados’ tourism industry.