March 20, 2022
BARBADOS – THE EXCLUSIVE HOLIDAY CHOICE. INTERVIEW WITH THE MINISTER OF TOURISM B
Barbados, this island in the Caribbean Sea is the embodiment of dreams of relaxing in the enchanting beauty of the tropics. The island takes its name from the roots of the local fig tree, which are shaped like beards. The Portuguese called them bearded trees and this is where the name Barbados, Portuguese for beard, comes from.
The island’s Minister of Tourism, Hon. Lisa Cummins.
What makes Barbados attractive to tourists?
When you think about the existing range of rooms, hotels and villas on the island, you can see that Barbados is very much like how people describe it – a playground for the rich and famous. However, I think the beautiful thing about Barbados is that while people come here and can enjoy luxury, they might as well walk down the street, pop into a local bar or shop and find true Caribbean authenticity.
Are you noticing new investments in the luxury tourism segment?
Of course. Many people who have always worked with Barbados still have great confidence in the local market, so they continue to invest in existing properties. There are also investors who come to Barbados and ask us about available opportunities because they really want to do business here. One example is Royalton, a new development being built on the west coast, which is brand new, tied in with Canadian investors.
There are also new developments that are still being designed. I recently had a meeting about a new facility that will be available on the east coast, where there is literally nothing at the moment. Once approved it will be managed by one of the ultra-luxury brands. Again, this is a completely new development. So I think our traditional partners are not going away and they are staying in the market, but there are also new partners who are very keen to work with Barbados.
How are you going to ensure Barbados stays at the top of the luxury market?
When the pandemic started, we launched Welcome Stamp, which is a programme for digital nomads. There were a lot of people who tried to replicate what Barbados was doing, but Barbados remained in the luxury market. People had to earn a minimum annual income to qualify for a year’s stay in Barbados; in other words, they had to be able to support themselves independently of the state.
This meant that we attracted people who are CEOs or owners of Fortune 500 companies, who were staying here with their employees or families as part of the Welcome Stamp programme.
They came, they saw, they liked it! And many of them stayed. But even many of those who didn’t stay bought properties in the most exclusive neighbourhoods. And some of them later applied for permits to open multi-level condo facilities or rental villas.
What else is Barbados doing to attract investment and move away from the ‘sun, sea and sand’ concept?
We have always been about sun, sea and sand and tourism has always been our main focus. But we have other industries that are key to our success, and there must be more of them. Our new government has made two major commitments. One is to anchor and diversify our traditional markets and sectors, while creating new opportunities in areas that were not there before.
These will include projects such as the science and technology park, with a significant focus on renewable energy and green investment. We will also continue to look at how to position the tourism sector in the ultra-luxury segment.
What are the other plans?
At the last cabinet meeting, we looked at offshore islands, which is common in the Middle East. Barbados has done a committee study on where and to what extent we could create offshore islands. One of my priorities is to work with the relevant teams and potential investors to identify at least one offshore island for development in Barbados, which would create new real estate investment opportunities. Sir Paul Altman has a whole idea that he would very much like to implement and I hope that we can work with him.
Furthermore, the development of the island would create new employment opportunities. There would need to be opportunities for agriculture and manufacturing, as well as crafts and creativity, to supply the island.
The idea is that someone might be on the beach early in the morning before they make a Zoom call to their headquarters in Zurich, and then go play golf, followed by a rum and Coke at a local bar; all the while thinking about how to expand their investment portfolio with all these new projects going on in Barbados.
What are the new markets you are working with?
Last year we met with the Saudis. We are also working with the United Arab Emirates because we have a new ambassador there. In our manifesto we clearly mentioned the priorities for markets like Qatar, UAE, Saudi Arabia in the Middle East. We mentioned Ghana and Kenya on the African continent. We also want to move south to Latin America. Beyond the UK, which is our main source market, we have started to open up to Germany and Amsterdam, but we are also looking at which other markets we should prioritise.
We are currently finalising negotiations on an air services agreement with Saudi Arabia and Qatar. We have already signed an air services agreement with Kenya, and we expect to do the same with Ghana in the coming weeks.
What is luxury to you?
Luxury is so different for so many people. For me, luxury is lying in a hammock and watching the sunset with a book – usually about women’s leadership – and a bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon somewhere nearby! Another luxury is a great massage at one of the many spas on the island. It is also a luxury to be able to sit in a hammock and listen to beautiful Barbadian music that reminds me that I am in the best place in the world. It can also be a luxury to go to a fantastic restaurant where you can eat great food in a great location, in a great atmosphere and with great service.