The 10th annual Connect Barbados Conference took place this week, giving the travel industry a look at what the island has to offer in the coming year.
The event, held from Sept. 3 to 6 at the Lloyd Erskine Sandiford Centre in the capital Bridegetown, drew nearly 100 delegates from across the globe, including representatives from Canada, the U.K., France, Brazil and the Netherlands.
As of September, the Barbados Tourism Authority has been re-branded as BTMI. Petra Roach, Interim CEO of BTMI, opened the conference by introducing the new image and giving travel professionals a glimpse of what to expect from Barbados in 2015.
“Connect is an opportunity for all tour operators across the globe to meet with travel partners and use that opportunity to get updated with all developments,” she said, “in terms of what they're doing as an organization as well as the events that they have planned.
“They also look at the competitiveness of Barbados and recognize that they have two options; either to go down the route of price, or to look at non-price - which includes things like brand-new activities or services - and quality. With that, it's tendering those events to make sure they match trends and changing consumer tastes. With all these new activities Barbados want to create a buzz to Tour Operator despite the economic difficulty, Barbados is open for business in a very aggressive way they don't want to seat back and take market share from them, it's about recognizing what's it's trending and making enjoy what they got and find a good solution for those trends.
At the event, Adrian Loveridge announced the New Discover Barbados Program, a value-added program that is offered in 19 restaurants across the island, where the customer pays $99 Barbados for a three-course meal and a half-bottle of wine.
Sue Springer, Executive VP Hotel & Tourism Association, spoke about the various attractions in Barbados. Describing the island as “the land of the flying fish, coucou and the green mountains,” she added that the rum industry has been “an integral part of Barbadian history for over 300 years,” with more than 1,500 rum shops on the island. Barbados also boasts eight museums and at 350 years old, the oldest Parliament in the Western hemisphere. Regarding accommodations, Springer said that the island features more than 6,000 rooms and 3,000 private villas. New accommodations include the Aquatica Barbados Resort and Soco Boutique Hotel, along with the recently re-opened Almond Beach Resort. Sandals Barbados is opening in January 2015, she said.
Roach also introduced the Barbados International Tourism Program, which promotes the understanding of the importance of tourism among those working in Barbados’ travel industry.
“They need to understand that each of them has an important role to play," said Roach. “So even if you're a bus driver, your behavior will impact the visitor experience. They're behaviour is reflecting what Barbados is all about.”
During the event, delegates were hosted at some of Barbados’ most exclusive hotels and restaurants, including the Luxury Blue Sky Villa Group at the Marshmallow Villa, the Cliff Restaurant, the Sea Breeze Hotel and the Crane Resort.
Among the top events planned for the coming year are the Race of the Champion from Dec. 13 to 14, featuring some of the world’s top racers going head-to-head in front of tens of thousands of spectators; the Classic Pops Festival from Dec. 11 to 14, featuring contemporary pop and rock music performed by groups such as the Boston Symphony Orchestra and New York Philharmonic; and the fifth annual Food, Wine and Rum Festival running from Nov. 21 to 23, which will bring celebrity chefs like Marcus Samuelsson, Anne Burrel and Roger Mooking to the island for a celebration of all things culinary.
Cheryl Carter, senior business development manager for BTMI, said that “Canada remains a major source market for Barbados, representing 17 per cent of visitors,” in fourth place behind the U.S., the Caribbean and the U.K. She said the long-standing connection between the two countries is exemplified by the upcoming 65th anniversary of Air Canada becoming the first North American airline with scheduled service to the island. Air Canada will be adding a third service from Montreal this winter, with departures on Saturdays-Sundays and Wednesday (daily departures are offered from Toronto). As of Oct. 1, Air Canada will also once again be flying 767s to Barbados, which Carter said will result in increased tourist numbers. Carter explained that although 55 per cent of Canadian travellers to Barbados are between 35 and 65 years old, the destination provides plenty of family-oriented activities and accommodations. She added that a new wedding promotion, known as Forever Begins in Barbados, will offer brides free flight, accommodation and wedding package for couples booking 10 or more rooms for a minimum of four nights.
Main photo: (from left) Sue Springer, Exec VP Barbados Hotel &Tourism Association; Adrian Loveridge of the Re-Discover Barbados dine around program; Mark Maloney, Chairman, Bushy Park Race Circuit; Petra Roach, Interim CEO BTMI; Micheal Aiken, Classical Pops Festival; Eric Davis of the Food, Wine and Rum Festival.