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Ince – a pioneer of cruise tourism

GERCINE CARTER, [email protected]

Ince – a pioneer of cruise tourism

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A SMILE OF satisfaction steals across Cecil Ince’s face when he reflects on how the cruise ship business has enhanced Barbados’ tourism figures and the island’s economy.

Today, he is seeing the rewards of his pioneering work done together with his former business partner Paul Foster that created and has resulted in a successful cruise industry for Barbados.

Now in his 80s, Ince looked back on those days when he used to go knocking on doors of principals of the world’s cruise lines, to attract them to this hardly known, tiny Caribbean port.

He never grew tired of telling people about the beauty of the mere spec in the vast Caribbean Sea. “Those were the years Barbados was being put on the map,” he said, and when people in other parts of the world would ask him: “Where are you from?” and he was always ready with the answer – “Barbados.”

“Where is that?”, they would ask. His nearest point of reference would often be Venezuela as he told them Barbados was just “so many hundred miles off Venezuela.”

Before Paul Foster asked Ince in 1969 to join his Paul Foster Travel agency, which the Barbadian tourism stalwart had opened two years earlier, Ince worked for the regional airline BWIA as sales manager for the Southern Caribbean with postings in Trinidad, Guyana, Antigua and Barbados.

As sales manager of BWIA he excelled, and was a respected representative of the regional carrier.

Thinking about his contribution to BWIA brought back memories of the 1964 meeting he attended at Government Headquarters which stands out. “I found myself at a table with all these tourism figures and the Hon Wynter Crawford told me they wanted 48 seats on a BWIA Viscount aircraft to fly the Barbados Police Band to New York for a performance at Radio City Music Hall with the famous Rockettes.”

In contrast to today where wide-bodied aircraft carrying hundreds of passengers are the norm, the police band back then turned out to be a whole plane load and BWIA readily obliged.

Ince remains impressed but humbled that “Errol Barrow called me to thank me for arranging that trip.”

He was named BWIA’s Salesman of the Year in 1962, and chose the award of a trip around the world, which allowed him to travel first class on jetliners which had only come into existence about three years before.

He was always in promotion mode. When it came to Barbados he never lost an opportunity to push this island.

In this, he found an ally in the late Caroyln Barrow, wife of National Hero Rt Excellent Errol Barrow. Barrow’s popular Barbados Rediffusion interviews with interesting personalities visiting the island, proved an ideal outlet for exposure for people Ince would often meet in the course of his job. The purpose was twofold.

Editors of leading British magazines such as Vogue and Town and Country chatted with Barrow on Barbados’ only radio station at the time, and they, as well as other interesting personalities, would return home to spread the news about the wonderful time they had in Barbados. It was exposure for which Barbados could not afford to pay.

“That word of mouth did a lot for the island,” Ince said, and proved to be a valuable fillip to the young Tourist Board’s efforts.

Ince treasures the Gold Crown of Merit he received from Government in 2009 for his “highly meritorious service in the area of tourism, in particular cruise tourism.” The award is prominently displayed among the many mementos of his achievements, in his Christ Church home.

Ince told the SUNDAY SUN: “In the 60s cruise ships calling at Barbados were few. In what was then referred to as the carriage trade, a euphemistic term for mainly whites, it was the Trumps of this world who cruised and people like myself could not afford to go on those cruises. Ships would go around South America, do an 80-day cruise and call on Barbados on the way back to New York.”

He added: “Cruising started essentially in 1972 as we know it today, and ships are built differently today. They are bottom line-oriented and carry far more passengers.”

In the 60s Paul Foster Travel was the leading travel agency providing tours to passengers on the few cruise ships docking here. The travel agency sub-contracted its tour business, utilising the services of private taxi owners.

While speaking about this stage of the development of the cruise industry, Ince briefly recalled the excitement among people like him and others in tourism when the united Taxi Owners Association led by Hamilton Bailey imported the first coach for tours.

He expressed his pride at being one of the people attending the special James Street Methodist Church blessing for the 20-seater Toyota Coaster.

“Before then, it was just taxis and visitors complained that some of the taxis had holes in the floor and they could smell the gas.”

Nowadays it is common to see the Foster and Ince fleet of sleek air-conditioned coaches on the road ferrying visitors across Barbados. It was Ince who first influenced his partner Foster to move in this direction when Paul Foster Travel began to face fierce competition from several new travel agencies opening their doors in Barbados.

It was then Ince said he started to take a much more active role in the cruise business, largely because he said: “I discovered that the cruise lines were not happy with the standard and quality of tours being offered in Barbados.”

Today Foster and Ince through Platinum Port Agency provide a wide range of services to both cruise ship passengers and crew. Largely through the efforts of Ince’s son and business successor, Martin who is constantly jetting around the globe to seek out new cruise ship business for Barbados, some of the world’s mega ships now call at the Bridgetown Port bringing thousands of visitors. More and more of them are overnighting here in a growing home porting business.

Ince senior retired in 2001 and has handed the mantel to Martin who continues to grow the business and like his father, play a pivotal role in the development of cruise tourism.

In retirement, he is as committed to Barbados as he was when actively at work. “I keep saying one of the best things Mr Barrow ever did was to make this country independent . . . . We have made tremendous strides. Independence has made us such a proud country much admired by the rest of the world” he remarked.

The apparent increasing levels of crime on the island are for him a disturbing development.

Still he prefers life in an independent Barbados which he thinks is now a more congenial society. Ince says he has seen a definite change from when Barbados “was controlled by a very select group of companies.” He is also relieved that the “divisions among the social classes” he saw in the mid-50s appear to be disappearing.

Of those days he said: “The small entrepreneur almost did not exist. In those days if you wanted a tyre, if you wanted a wheel, you went to one of the Big Six – BS&T (Barbados Shipping and Trading). It was a very one-sided affair. Thank God that generation of Barbados has passed on. It was a very ugly side.”

The former all-white Barbados Yacht Club and the exclusive Bridgetown Club in his view are happily, now features of Barbados’ past too.

“Though times have changed,” said Ince, he assured his love for Barbados never will.