Virgin official calls for greater focus on Barbados’ tourism brand

A senior airline official is urging tourism industry operators to maintain a diverse product offering while cautioning small hotel owners of the need to step up their game.

Virgin Atlantic’s Commercial Manager for the Caribbean Andre Bello said it was important that the island had a range of offerings to suit the needs of the market, while ensuring that its product was of the highest standard.

Bello was responding to questions from reporters following the official re-opening of Virgin Atlantic’s offices in Hastings, Christ Church today.

Commenting specifically on the introduction of the Sandals hotel chain, which is due to officially open here at the end of next month, Bello said it was good news for the island as well as airline operators.

“If you look at the Caribbean overall, we want to have a diverse portfolio. You look at Tobago for example where we are going to add in March, it is a very different product from Barbados and very different from Montego Bay and Negril [in Jamaica], and therefore we have a good range of products.

“What Sandals brings to Barbados is that strong brand presence and that high-end, all-inclusive vacation that is really important to have as part of a portfolio,” said Bello.

“Sandals is not going to do it on its own, we need boutique hotels to step up their game, we need to look at Barbados as a brand and what that should look like and represent,” the Virgin official said.

He noted that the airline had invested “in the front of the plane” in anticipation of the “wealthier” leisure traveler.

“We see Sandals as a right move to add to that portfolio. But we have a tonne of boutique hotels that are fantastic and we have a tonne of hotels here that are well established and are doing well and it is good for us to have that range,” he added.

Jokingly stating that he was almost compelled to become a member of the Barbados Hotel and Tourism Association (BHTA), Bello lauded the association for speaking out on issues of importance for the industry.

Minisiter of Tourism Richard Sealy (left) and Virgin Atlantic’s regional commercial manager Andre Bello shaking hands to the opening of the improved office spaces as two  Virgin Atlantic employees look on.
Minister of Tourism Richard Sealy (left) and Virgin Atlantic’s regional commercial manager Andre Bello shaking hands to the opening of the improved office spaces as two Virgin Atlantic employees look on.

He also  suggested that they continue to encourage visitors to get out of the hotels and immerse themselves in the local culture.

“[The BHTA] is very active and working with the new BTMI [Barbados Tourism Marketing Inc.] and I think we are starting to see some rewards in terms of the type of product they are putting out and the way they are actually advising small hotels how to get ready to play with the big boys. So there are systems that come into play with big companies and I think that those systems could be applied to smaller organizations. And if we could start learning from each other, I think that is going to be very positive,” Bello said.

“We could safely put our tourists on a bus and send them around the place and they want to do that. They don’t want to stay in the hotels anymore. Some want to come to Sandals and have an all inclusive experience but typically they do want to meet locals, talk to locals, feel safe and comfortable and experience part of the culture,” he added.

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