At Caribbean Week New York, Travel Agent sat down with Hon. Kerrie D. Symmonds, Barbados’ minister of tourism and international transport, to get the latest on the island.
New Hotels: You can expect a handful of new properties catering to a variety of travelers to open in the coming years. Symmonds says he has identified three or four greenfield sites in the southeast of the island near the Hilton Barbados, which are being put to the market. He adds, the island hosted a “successful” investment conference at the end of April to bring awareness to these sites.
“New government has to meet new thinking and it makes no sense having car parks on one of the most beautiful beaches to be found in the Caribbean,” he tells Travel Agent.
And on those sites, you can expect some new types of property. Currently, Symmonds tells us, the zoning laws in Barbados have a building cap at seven stories; new permits, however, would let buildings reach as high as 15 stories. This would give investors an opportunity to get a better ROI—but it would also allow for sizable expansion in terms of room numbers without occupying large plots.
What’s also interesting is that, in these newbuilds, gaming tables will be allowed—a first for Barbados. While the process to bring in casino-type properties only got rolling in April, there’s already one signed agreement; Symmonds expects the project to take up to two years before it opens. Unfortunately, there is no word on what brand may be opening shop—although Symmonds said Barbados reached out to numerous international brands during the investment conference, as the island mostly has locally operated hotels. In addition to the gaming hotels, Symmonds says Barbados has its sights set on bringing romantic hotels to the island.
On the immediate horizon, The Sands is opening on Worthing Beach (near the Ocean Two Resort & Residences on the Saint Lawrence Gap). It will have 175 rooms and should be open this summer.
It’s also important to note that the occurrence of sargassum seaweed has increased as of late; however, it’s not as bad as last year and only the east (Atlantic) coast is affected, Symmonds says. He adds that they are trying to capture as much seaweed before it reaches land to save the beaches but to also use agriculturally—as it has many benefits for farmers.
Access: Barbados recently expanded its partnership with JetBlue, launching year-round flights from Newark Liberty International Airport to Grantley Adams International Airport. Symmonds says he wants to expand this relationship even further and had plans to meet with the JetBlue team while he was in New York. “I think the Mint service is working exceptionally well out of New York, and I am very keen on seeing that expanding,” he tells Travel Agent. “I think there’s a wealth of opportunity now, and JetBlue has been a major developmental partner.”
From Europe, Barbados has just signed the first deal to bring Lufthansa Group to the Eastern Caribbean. The flights will be operated by Eurowings and start in October. Symmonds adds that Lufthansa Group chose Barbados and Mauritius as the first two destinations for this expansion.
Barbados set a record for arrivals in 2018, topping 200,000 visitors from the United States for the first time. With those numbers, American visitors now make up roughly 30 percent of the total visitors to the island, which trails the U.K. (at 33 percent) but leads Canada and the rest of Europe, which make up a combined 27 percent. “So, we are becoming more global and that keeps me happy,” Symmonds says.
Symmonds says a major focus of his is accessibility—but not to the island. Rather, he’s concerned about how people get around the island, and how people with disabilities can get around. “The infrastructure is not the best,” he tells us.
So, with the new hotels, travelers can also expect more accessible rooms. The same goes for restaurants and other attractions on the island: These, in time, will cater better to those with disabilities better than they do now. Symmonds adds, “It works not only for us as a tourism destination, but it also helps us develop as a country—our people have disabilities, too.”
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