A banner year for Barbados

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Barbados, with beaches like this one near Speightstown, saw tourism rise 15% in 2015.
Barbados, with beaches like this one near Speightstown, saw tourism rise 15% in 2015.

Barbados was one of the big winners in Caribbean tourism in 2015 with a 15% increase in visitors from the prior year. The island's banner year could be attributed to several factors, including expanded airlift, hotel development and aggressive marketing.

According to the Caribbean Tourism Organization (CTO), Barbados jumped to more than 527,000 stayover arrivals, an improvement from its 2013 total of 508,520, which was a 5% decrease from 2012.

“I definitely saw an increase in Barbados bookings last year,” said DeAnne Petritz, director of leisure travel at CI Azumano Travel in Virginia Beach, Va., No. 45 on Travel Weekly’s 2015 Power List.

“It’s much easier to get to, thanks to JetBlue’s year-round Mint service from New York and American’s expanded flights,” Petritz said. “Sandals’ arrival last year was a game changer, and with a Hyatt and Wyndham coming, there’s new products to offer.”

She credited Barbados Tourism Marketing with doing “a great job promoting the destination and letting agents know what is new on the island.”

While the Caribbean’s 7% surge in visitors last year surpassed the global growth rate of 4% and set arrival and spending records, there are concerns that the mosquito-borne Zika virus could hurt growth this year, according to Hugh Riley, the CTO’s secretary general.

“Right now, we do not see any significant impact,” Riley said. “But it is a concern, and we have mounted an aggressive information campaign with the Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association and are in daily contact with the Caribbean Public Health Agency and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to let tour operators, hoteliers, agents and the public know what precautions to take and what steps are underway to eradicate [mosquito] breeding grounds.”

Riley spoke on Feb. 16, the day the U.S. and Cuba signed an agreement re-establishing direct commercial flights between the countries for the first time in more than 50 years.

“Cuba already has had an impact on tourism to the region,” Riley said. “It is a magnet that has drawn new business and attention to the Caribbean. We need to have programs that will offer multi-destination travel, so visitors can combine a visit to Cuba with another island. Cuba is doing well and so is the rest of the Caribbean.”

The CTO is forecasting an increase of 5% in Caribbean visitor arrivals in 2016, hoping to meet the 30 million visitor target set several years ago.

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