If Petra Roach has her way, the U.S. soon will be the No. 1 market to Barbados, edging out the U.K., which currently holds the top spot in visitor arrivals.
Roach, U.S. director of Barbados Tourism Marketing since January, said the U.S. market "offers significant potential for Barbados. It is a steep learning curve getting to know the intricacies of our partners' businesses and understanding the makeup of the distribution network here in the U.S., but I am so excited at the task ahead."
Barbados visitor totals last year topped 520,000, up 2.2% over 2013. Of that number, U.K. visitors came in at 186,858, a jump of 11%. U.S. visitors to Barbados numbered 118,659 in 2014, down 2%.
Additional airlift recently announced by JetBlue could help increase the U.S. numbers, according to Roach. The carrier will introduce its premium Mint service on seasonal flights from New York Kennedy to Bridgetown between Nov. 7 and April 30, 2016. Between Dec. 19 and Jan. 4, 2016, the airline will operate one roundtrip flight daily for the busy holiday season.
The carrier currently offers a daily roundtrip from Kennedy year-round.
Barbados also is served twice weekly on Delta out of Kennedy and twice a week from Atlanta, weekly on US Airways from Charlotte and daily on American from Miami.
Roach wants to turn Barbados into an "experiential" destination by leveraging relationships with Bajan food, Bajan rums, putting Bajan cocktails on menus and expanding the island's repertoire of annual events to appeal to a broader audience.
"We have to differentiate ourselves," she said. "All islands have sun, sand and sea.
"I feel our signature events will play a key role in marketing and promoting the destination," she added, citing the Red Bull Global Rallycross auto race Oct. 3 and 4 at the Bushy Park Circuit as an example.
In addition, Roach said, "Barbados has polo season from January through May; a Gospelfest in May; the Food & Wine and Rum Festival, which this year is Nov. 19 to 22; and Classical Pops Dec. 10 to 13."
Top of mind for Roach is dialogue with agents. "We have to better explain the destination, show what Barbados can offer their clients and have a more visible presence with them," she said.
She'll be doing road trips, presentations in key cities and hosting events, such as the recent half-time event at the Miami Heat's American Airlines Arena, which celebrated the January opening of Sandals Barbados.
"Barbados has a great story to tell and to sell, and I aim to do both," Roach said.