Barbados’ tourism sector has begun to show signs of growth. In 2014 long stay visitor arrivals increased for the first time in two years.

Chairman of the Barbados Tourism Marketing Inc. (BTMI), Alvin Jemmott, explained that while there was still some way to go to restore all of the market share lost during the past few years, it was encouraging news for the destination.

“This is admirable considering that our destination is one of the more mature holiday spots in the region, with a very high repeat visitor rate.  It also comes against the background that there was a projection of a four per cent decline in arrivals for the year back in December 2013.”

Tourism is still the best hope for Barbados’ economic recovery, as it generates some 12 per cent of the island’s foreign exchange earnings, which are estimated at $4 billion.

There was also a record-breaking number of arrivals in December 2014 when Barbados welcomed 56,132 long stay visitors, the highest on record in any given month since the April 2007 ICC Cricket World Cup.

BTMI CEO, William Griffith, explained that the growth in arrivals was due largely to marked economic recovery and growing consumer confidence in the United Kingdom.  Barbados’ UK arrivals grew by 11 per cent in 2014 to reach 186,858 visitors or 37 per cent of Barbados’ total arrivals.

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In the United States market, he revealed that visitor arrivals declined by two per cent in 2014.  Thus far, the BTMI has been able to replace 82 per cent of the 55,702 seats lost after the withdrawal of the American Airlines service out of JFK.  In addition, December was a record month for the US market, with 14,460 arrivals, the third highest number of December arrivals from the USA to date.

The Canadian market, which was predicted to finish at 8 per cent below the 2013 performance, was down by two per cent at the end of 2014.

The Caribbean market experienced a 10 per cent decline in seats via regional carrier, LIAT; diminished spending power among potential visitors; and high airfares that, Griffith argued ‘placed regional travel in an uncompetitive position, in some instances, when compared to the cost of international travel.”  Overall, the Caricom market registered a decline of 9.9 per cent in arrivals.

Of note, the European market continued to maintain double-digit growth in 2014.  Germany, the Netherlands and Belgium were up 15 per cent, 17 per cent and 7 per cent respectively.  Italy was also up 13 per cent over 2013.  Similarly, arrivals out of Brazil were up by 18 per cent.

The cruise tourism sector registered a two per cent decline in arrivals to reach 557,898 arrivals and home porting activity was five per cent below the previous year due to a decrease in calls across various lines.  However, we welcomed 395 cruise ships, an increase of 21 vessels when compared to 2013.  There were 1,164 more cruise stay visitors than in the previous year, with the majority choosing to stay 7-10 days.

2015 Predicted as ‘Year of Growth’

Building on the successful growth of the previous year, Barbados’ tourism arrivals are projected to increase by five per cent in 2015.

Also for the year the island has recorded strong levels of visitor arrivals with preliminary figures showing January 2015 being the highest on record for the past 15 years with 56,132 arrivals.  The USA grew by 14 per cent to 10,810, the highest on record since 201.  The UK increased by 15 per cent or 2,790 more visitors to a total of 21,355 visitors and Canada made a significant jump of 27 percentage points to reach 10,578 visitors.

To ensure that this growth is sustained in 2015, the BTMI will be combining a new digital marketing strategy and a deeper reliance on research with a new nimble business structure and several collaborative marketing programmes reach their targets.

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A new programme dubbed, Brilliant Barbados, has been designed “to drive incremental business in the traditionally softer period of the year”.  Griffith said.

“The battle for growth and sustainability for visitor arrivals will not be won solely by winter performances. It requires greater effort and more targeted marketing activity in the summer and fall months”. He added.

The booking window for the Brilliant Barbados promotion will open from early March for five weeks and travel will be required between May 9 and December 19, 2015.  Thirty participating hotels and a number of local attractions have come on board to offer visitors discounts.

In addition, strong alliances are already being formed with several online travel agencies, tour operators and local industry partners to increase Barbados marketing presence at key gateways.

The BTMI’s CEO also announced the appointment of a new Director Marketing, Robert Chase, who has a master’s degree in e-commerce.  His department will hold responsibility for brand advertising, marketing strategy and the BTMI’s online real estate.  Additionally, the BTMI will begin the recruitment process for a manager of digital marketing and social media.  It is anticipated that all new hires will be in position by the end of the year.

Cruise is also projected to be buoyant with a five to six per cent increase expected to push cruise arrivals over the 750,000 mark by the end of 2015.  Home porting is set to increase by 17 per cent this year and 12 new vessels calling the Bridgetown port will contribute an additional 177,551 passengers.

Among the niche markets the BTMI will be focusing its marketing dollars on are the luxury, meetings and incentives (MICE), culinary and romance markets.  Sports and festivals are also expected to factor heavily going forward.

Griffith concluded by stating that the island was poised to regain market share and accomplish new milestones in 2015 and beyond.