Enabling tourism in northern Barbados
Are Speightstown and areas in the north of the island sufficiently attractive to lure visitors from other countries? Do they need to change to suit tourists’ demands? Or should they just be locations to provide an added pull for Barbados’ guests?
Those were the issues mulled over Wednesday night when leading players in Barbados’ tourism industry got together with northern tour operators to discuss tourism development in the island’s north by 2025.
Chairman of the Barbados Hotel and Tourism Association (BHTA) Roseanne Myers said the attractions were there but needed infrastructural support. Former tourism minister Noel Lynch said the product has to be moulded to suit the tourists’ needs, while water sports operator Tony Babb said the north needs more resident business owners. In the view of tourism executive Colin Jordan, the northern offerings should complement Barbados’ overall attractions.
“There are a number of unique things about Speightstown that could become part of a package that sells Speightstown as an attraction within the Barbados context,” Jordan said in conference room of the Almond Village where the tourism stakeholders met.
“We’re not talking about Speightstown outside of Barbados’ tourism, we’re talking about Speightstown being an essential part of the development of Barbados, unique in its historical involvement,” added Jordan, who is Director of Business Development at the Mango Bay Hospitality Group of Companies and Director of Finance at the BHTA.
He added that few visitors leave their homeland to specifically holiday in northern Barbados. But he contended that locations in the north are relevant.
“People are looking for variety in the destinations they are going to and Speightstown, as a part of the north, and the north generally, [are] well positioned to assist Barbados’ tourism by providing variety. We’re not talking about the north or Speightstown as some special destination, we’re saying that within the Barbados context – possibly within a Caribbean context – when we are talking about providing variety for visitors, Speightstown must feature in providing that variety.”
Jordan spoke of the linkages connecting British tourists – who make up 35 per cent of Barbados’ visitors – to Speightstown, the island’s first port which was dubbed Little Bristol. He also mentioned ties with Americans, as Bajans left the parish of St. Peter to form the settlement of the Carolinas in the United States.
He found support in his suggestion from a member of the audience, Aird Atherley, who suggested that this vein of heritage tourism has the potential to bring visitors, through twinning Speightstown with Bristol in the UK, and St Peter with South Carolina.
While not disagreeing on the north’s attractions, Lynch, a tourism minister for eight years up until 2008, cautioned: “Don’t sell what you have, find out what the people want . . you don’t sell what you got, sell what the people want.”
He said that twinning of locations does not bring people to Barbados, and that visitors still come for the traditional elements of a tropical destination – sun, sea and sand.
“Eighty percent of our [tourists] still come on a tour operator programme for leisure within a tropical environment,” he said, adding that when booking they may discover Barbados’ northern elements as an added reason to visit, or discover those extra attractions upon arrival.
“Nobody don’t get on pun no plane and come to Barbados to come to Speightstown . . . confront your realities, create a real marketing concept and go from there,” Lynch advised.
Myers, who is also chairman of Atlantis Submarine Tours, said the non-functioning jetty in Speightstown is the obstacle to underwater tourism in the upper end of Barbados.
“The north, especially the northwest, has some of the best coral reef development in Barbados. The farther north you go, the more pristine the reefs become. The only reason that Atlantis is not diving in the north is because of that jetty,” she said.
Speaking about the potential for the north once there was infrastructural development, Myers said if the pier was functioning, “we would be in a situation where we could tow the vessel [submarine] and leave it here, and maybe two or three days per week we operate from the north, and I’m sure it would really expand our market offering.”
Babb said the problem with the jetty was that it was built in the wrong place. “There is no place in the world where anybody would build a jetty right by a reef, because a reef always has wave action.”
He said the only way the current structure will ever work is as a cruise and fishing jetty.
The water sports operator expressed hope that when a new jetty is being considered, the experience of locals would be taken into the final decision.
Consistent with his call for local input, he complained that the little investment in the north was done by non-northerners, much to the disadvantage of the zone.
“Most of the people who own businesses in the north, do not live in the north,” Babb said.