Barbados recently unveiled a number of initiatives aimed at giving today's travelers what they want.
The findings, based in part on research that came out from focus-group sessions, were outlined during the Caribbean Tourism Organization's annual conference, held last week in Barbados.
"Travelers are driving tourism, and these groups want more than the beach," said Kerry Hall, CEO of the Barbados Tourism Product Authority (BTPA). "They want cultural and community immersion, memorable off-the-beaten path experiences, value for their money, more experiential and educational activities, security and opportunities to give back to the local community. We need to showcase and tell the story of Barbados to and for our visitors."
The BPTA will continue to focus not only on existing niche markets, such as cultural heritage, culinary, community, adventure and voluntourism but also concentrate on emerging niches, such as genealogy and astro-tourism (the Harry Bayley Observatory in Bridgetown is the only observatory in the eastern Caribbean).
Some of the new programs that were cited were Speightstown Sizzlin', a town 11 miles north of the capital of Bridgetown on the west coast where visitors can take part in the Saturday night fish fry, similar to the larger one held every Friday night at Oistins near Bridgetown; the Holetown Heritage Walking Tour, a town eight miles north of Bridgetown that features tours with characters in period costumes and reenactments of historical events; and Breezin', which will offer visitors the chance to have family dinners with the Bajans, make pottery with local artisans and sample and make typical island specialties at community gatherings.
"During the local dining experiences, visitors will actually go into people's homes, learn to cook the local specialties and then sit down and eat with the family," Hall said. "This is real tourism at its best, with camaraderie and shared experiences."
The Country Sizzle initiative will rotate around the island and involve local chefs holding cooking demonstrations.
On the Bajan Rum Shop guided tour, visitors will learn the history of rum on Barbados and the role it has played in the island's culture through stops (and samplings) at three local rum shops.
Aunty Lucille, the proprietor of Old Brigand rum bar in the town of Shorey in St. Andrew’s parish in Barbados. Photo Credit: Gay Nagle Myers
"These initiatives are new, but details will be on the visitbarbados.org website very soon," Hall said. "We have to ensure that our guests have a quality experience that not only fulfills expectations but surpasses them."
The programs are aimed not only at the niche-market travel sectors but also at the returning guests "who may think they have seen what Barbados has to offer but we intend to show them more," Hall said.
Repeat visitors annually account for more than 50% of Barbados' annual stayover visitors, which through August totaled more than 421,000, up 5.3% over the same period last year.