BEHIND THE HEADLINES: Growth through tourism and culture
Asked what would help spur faster economic growth in his country, a CARICOM leader was quick on the uptake.
“I would like some of those rich British, Irish and Canadian multimillionaires who flock to Barbados’ west coast to come to us,” said the Prime Minister, whose destination is a favourite playground for rich Americans and whose tourism industry is a key driver of the nation’s economy.
Absent from his observation was the identity of the person who should receive much of the credit for Barbados’ success in attracting travellers from across Britain at the turn of the 21st century and afterwards.
The executive: Petra Roach, head of Barbados’s tourism marketing and promotional presence in London, but who is now the Barbados Tourism Marketing Inc.’s director in the United States, based in New York.
“We tried our best in London and we are seeking to do the same in the US,” was all she would say.
In the 20 months since she switched to America’s best known metropolitan area, whose economy, like that of Barbados and its neighbours relies heavily on the services sector there has been significant growth in the number of people flying into Barbados for their vacations.
“Actually, the US has overtaken the UK as the main source of visitors,” Roach explained. “For June, the US accounted for 34 per cent of the business and the UK was 29 per cent. We are very happy. From January to June this we are up 13.3 per cent. If you look at the fact that we were up 25 per cent in 2015 and add 13.3 per cent now you would see that we are up 38.3 per cent from the United States which I think is phenomenal.”
In actual numbers between January-June this year 83 630 visitors from the US went to Barbados, compared with the 58 890 who stayed in Barbados in 2014 and the 73 800 last year.
“We should end up between 12 to 15 per cent this year over last year’s,” she pointed out.
Roach credits “business partnerships” and expanded airlift provided by JetBlue, which has turned out to be what the travel industry needed the most.
“I think there is a general inclusion of all of the partners that range from hotels, tour operators, Jet Blue which serves out of New York, Florida, Massachusetts and New Jersey plus others with common interests,” she explained.
“They are the driving forces behind the rising numbers.”
Then, there is the Brooklyn Nets, the National Basketball Association’s franchise and professional team that plays at the sprawling Barclays Centre that is a major stage for a range of events, including music, boxing and ice hockey.
“We have a relationship with them [the Nets] so that people, who go to the centre, see the Barbados logo and other things.
“When you walk to the centre you see the signage outside or inside of the venue, “she explained. “On the big screen in the arena highlighting the Brooklyn Nets there is a calendar, the first ever, and that highlights the results of a photo shoot that brings out the island’s beauty.”
At NBA games there is visual video link between Barbados and the Nets on the big screen highlighting wind surfing, women in Crop Over costumes, Allison Hinds and elements that show visitors immersing themselves in Barbados’ culture.
“We are seeking to make sure that Barbados is visible to the hundreds of thousands of fans who go to the centre,” Roach pointed out.
“We are reaching people in a much more emotional manner and we are connecting much more deeply.”
And Barbados’ cultural industries – the music, dance, and other performing arts and visual – should get a boost from such partnerships.
The involvement of culture fits in with the efforts to develop cultural industries as an earner of foreign exchange for the Caribbean, an area that stretches from Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, Guyana, Grenada, the Bahamas and Haiti to Barbados, Antigua, St Kitts-Nevis and island nations in between.
PJ Patterson, former Jamaica prime minister, has been in the forefront of the region’s public figures who are urging governments to develop and market the culture in a holistic fashion designed to open up business and employment opportunities to artistes, producers and others players.
When more than a million people from across the US descend on Brooklyn for the annual West Indian American Day festival weekend many of Barbados’ top entertainers, including Edwin Yearwood, Peter Ram, TC, Red Plastic Bag, Biggie Ire, Deevine and Grynner are to be on stage at a Barbados 50th anniversary concert in Brooklyn on September 4.
Clearly, culture is a billion-dollar business that’s coming into its own in the Caribban. The mix of tourism and culture makes eminent sense.
“When you look at the demographics what you are talking mainly about are people who are college educated and have a propensity to travel.
“They are in the tri state area [New York, Connecticut and New Jersey],” explained Roach. “We are doing a lot of things that are different and unconventional and therefore we have a much stronger presence and visibility in that space.”
It may be a recipe for greater success.