Barbados has begun talks with several African and Middle Eastern airlines in a bid to bring travellers from fresh markets year-round, Minister of Tourism and International Transport Kerrie Symmonds has said.
While divulging few details, he identified the Dubai-based Emirates, ranked by the International Air Transport Association (IATA) as the world’s fourth-largest airline by scheduled revenue passenger-kilometres flown. It’s the second-largest freight carrier based on scheduled freight tonne-kilometres flown.
He declared he intends to travel to Africa as part of an effort to diversify the base from which the island currently draws its visitors, suggesting that this was one way of making Barbados an all-year destination.
He said: “In January of next year I will be in Africa because we are trying to break new ground into certain strategic targeted areas in Africa.” The Minister promised more information at a later date.
The discussions were currently with “many” airlines at this stage and officials were still in the process of coming up with likely routes, he added.
Symmonds said: “A part of the reason I am going to be in Africa next year is because we are finalizing the logistics for a route that will take us to Ghana and also Nairobi.
“But I can tell you the people who have expressed interest.
“The Kenyan Government has expressed interest and they have their own airline.
“Equally, we have had discussions with Qatar, which is an ongoing process and I really don’t want to make announcements, but there are discussions with Emirates at the same time so that we have to see where this goes.
“So we are seriously interested now in supporting the increasing demand for the Barbados experience and the Barbados products and opportunity for business, by having an airport that can lend capacity.”
Acknowledging that the aircraft would need to be filled on both legs for any scheduled or chartered flights, he said it was possible then for Barbados to be a hub by “taking along the rest of the Eastern Caribbean with us on this journey” thus making it easier for the two-way traffic.
Currently, the UK makes up the bulk of the tourists visiting Barbadian shores, accounting for about 35 per cent of total arrivals.
This is followed by the US at 30 per cent, Europe and Canada together representing 20 per cent, and the remaining 15 per cent is shared between CARICOM, Latin America and other markets.
Pointing to Brexit developments in the UK and European markets, Symmonds said international events could easily send the island’s bread-and-butter industry into turmoil, and therefore there was an urgent need to ensure new markets were secured.
He also disclosed that the twice-weekly COPA Airlines flights between Bridgetown and Panama City could soon be increased to three.
Symmonds said: “Based on current trends, we believe that we can move to thrice weekly in short order.”
“We have been doing rather well out of Panama. We feel there is a lot of traction to be had for a number of very good reasons.
“The major one is the heritage aspect of it felt on strongly on the part of Barbadians because a lot of Barbadians can trace parts of their family going to Panama to work on the Panama Canal, and equally there is a heritage aspect on the other side because a lot of Panamanians are very keenly aware of the contribution Barbados and Barbadians made.
“So there is mutual degree of interest.”
He said it was with this in mind that his ministry would be working closely with other ministries to find ways of “deepening the interest” through “sporting and cultural exchanges”.
Symmonds said the We Gatherin’ 2020 would also serve as a gateway to encourage Barbadians living in Panama and Panamanians to come to Barbados more frequently for business and leisure.
He added: “We have people from Panama who have expressed interest in coming to Barbados because it is kind of a reunion with family. So that is the reason, looking at the current volume of traffic, it is a likelihood we can make a compelling case for there to be a third flight.”
Symmonds, who pointed out that people were also using the Bridgetown to Panama City route “strategically” to get to other countries and avoid going through the usually busy Miami airport gateway.