Winter worry

by Shawn Cumberbatch

The tourism turnaround Government is expecting from the 2012-13 winter season is unlikely to materialise. And the vexing Air Passenger Duty, which the British government plans to increase again from April, will only make matters worse.

That’s the unwelcome news Barbados is receiving from ABTA The Travel Association, the body which represents the majority of the United Kingdom’s tour operators and travel agencies.

Last month Minister of Tourism Richard Sealy told the media the main tourist season, officially starting on Saturday, “will be an improvement on where it was last year”, pointing to “a number of encouraging developments” emerging from the recent World Travel Market in London.

But the ABTA’s Media Relations Manager, Sean Tipton, is not sharing the optimism. The organisation represents 800 tour operators and Tipton told Barbados TODAY: “Early indications are that bookings for most destinations this winter are lower than last year. However, the section of the public that are suffering most from the current austerity measures and economic downturn are families and those on a lower incomes, who are less likely to take their holidays in Barbados.

“It is still very early to predict booking patterns but it is unlikely that there will be any substantial increases in British travel to Barbados.”

These predictions will be a disappointment to both the Central Bank of Barbados, which has predicated an economic recovery on a bumper 2012/2013 winter tourist season. Spokesmen from Government, including Sealy, have also spoken expectantly about the prospects for the four-month season.

Barbados has traditionally welcomed most of its tourists and made most of its money from the British market, and the minister based much of his optimism on the availability of airlift from the UK.

“Our flights are in tact… We will have 10 flights from British Airways during the winter season; up from seven… Virgin Atlantic is also maintaining its schedule of nine flights a week… That is also very encouraging, considering both of those carriers have been reducing capacity into the Caribbean,” he said recently.

He also said Barbados tourism officials “continue to speak to other players in the market in terms of trying to get some charters going”.

Beyond the continued depressed economic situation in the UK, however, much of the ABTA’s lower expectations about British travel to Barbados related to the impact of the APD. “APD is definitely contributing to a downturn in travel to and from the UK. ABTA through the Fair Tax on Flying campaign continues to lobby for APD to be frozen or lowered,” Tipton noted.

On top of the existing challenge with the duty, the British Government has already announced that it will increase the imposition by 2.5 per cent from April next year.

The ABTA spokesman added, though, that Barbados’ public relations campaign featuring its international superstar Rihanna could help the island in its quest to attract British visitors.

“Barbados has a very good reputation in the UK and is seen as a safe destination. The current PR campaign featuring Rihanna, who has a very high profile in the UK, should help boost the island’s image with younger generations who would not normally consider Barbados as a travel choice,” he said.

These and other tourism issues are expected to be discussed tomorrow when the Barbados Hotel and Tourism Association holds its fourth quarterly meeting at Hilton Barbados.

Leader of the Opposition Owen Arthur is also expected to give his Barbados Labour Party’s vision for the sector.

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