Barbados has not been hit by a major hurricane in over 60 years. However, Chief Executive Officer of the Barbados Tourism and Marketing Inc. (BTMI) William Billy Griffith is reporting that the island has suffered fallout due to the recent passage of Hurricane Irma last month.
Griffith said this was as a result of some United States-based airlines and international booking agencies confusing it with storm-battered Barbuda, and deciding not to book flights to Barbados because they were of the impression it was devastated.
Earlier, Petra Roach, the BTMI’s director in the United States, had reacted to the apparent mix up, saying though Barbados was “totally empathetic” with the victims of the recent storms, “travel agents should recognize that we are not in the hurricane belt.
“It is business as usual for us with lots of events that agents could package,” she was quoted in a release circulated by tourism consultant Hugh Foster as saying, in view of the damaged caused to other Caribbean islands, including Barbuda which was decimated by Irma.
The powerful category 5 hurricane tore through that island on September 5, wiping out 90 per cent of all homes and buildings and forcing the evacuation of all 1,800 residents to neighbouring Antigua.
However, Barbados, which was last hit by Hurricane Janet in 1955, escaped much of the storm’s wrath, with Roach pointing out that air arrivals from the US were up 20 per cent in the first four months of 2017 and thxat cruise passenger arrivals rose more than 25 per cent during the same period.
Minister of Tourism Richard Sealy has also seen reason to stress that Barbados has a lot going for it in terms of ongoing and pending investments.
Delivering the Astor B Watts lunchtime lecture at the ruling Democratic Labour Party’s George Street headquarters late last month, Sealy singled out the 220-suite Sandals Casuarina property, which is to open this year, providing about 600 jobs; the opening of the 250-room Sands Hotel in 2018 providing about 300 jobs; the addition of rooms at the Sea Breeze hotel, as well as the opening of the 450-room Wyndham Sam Lords hotel in 2019, providing about 1,000 jobs.
“Of course we also have the owners of the Accra Hotel planning to do a 44-room hotel on Miami Beach and they are hoping for that to be operational by 2018,” he said, adding that total construction to take place from now to 2020 would result in about 2,300 new rooms, providing “a needed boost and modernization to the tourism industry in Barbados”.
However, arising from the mix up with Barbuda, Griffith said BTMI members, along with their public relations agencies, have had to take corrective action.
“We did two things, what we did is maintain our presence on social media, some advertising to some extent, and we continued promoting Barbados,” the tourism CEO told Barbados TODAY on the sidelines of last weekend’s Barbados Jazz Excursion at the Barbados Hilton resort.
“So simply by extension of the fact that we have promoted events we were saying that we are in business,” he said.
The issue also came up this morning at the start of the Caribbean Tourism Organization’s (CTO) State of the Tourism Industry Conference (SOTIC) at the Grenada Radisson Hotel with Director General of Tourism for the Bahamas, Joy Jibrilu, stressing that the region needs to quickly extinguish the notion, which may be circulating in some source markets, that the entire Caribbean was devastated by the spate of super storms.
Noting that this was a public relations problem which needed to be addressed urgently, Jibrilu said the burden now rests on intact territories to ensure that the slack in Caribbean’s tourism product was not picked by markets outside of the region.
“The Bahamas is spread out over one hundred thousand square miles. It is so important that when a hurricane strikes that the world knows that all 700 islands, 16 of which we actively promote, are not closed. By extension this applies to the Caribbean region, if a hurricane impacts six or seven of the islands, 23 of the other islands remain open and using that adage that we are our brother’s keeper, those of us who can continue must do so because we are the support system for those that have been impacted,” said Jibrilu.
Referencing her country’s reality in the aftermath of Hurricane Mathew back in 2016, Jibrilu explained that even though some of their major crown jewels were severely hit, the Bahamas was able to keep their tourism numbers rising because they were swiftly able to get the word out that the outer islands were open for business
“The real jewels in the crown of the Bahamas continue to thrive, so that uptick in numbers has come because we have been able to get the message out that the Bahamas is not just Nassau or Paradise Island and Grand Bahama but rather this multiplicity of islands,” she stressed.
However, the Bahamian Tourism Director General, said while every effort must made to let the rest of the world know that the Caribbean is still open for business, those undertaking the task must approach it with level of sensitivity. She stressed that promoting the Caribbean brand under such unfortunate circumstances must reflect empathy for those affected.
“When some islands are affected others aren’t and the sensitivity has to come from the ones that are not affected. How do we let the world know that we are open for business while at the same time empathizing with those in the region that have been impacted? So that is really a fine balance,” Jibrilu stated.