Barbados is expecting a new wave of U.S. tourism thanks to a recovering American economy and the Dec. 4 return of a nonstop Delta Air Lines flight to the capital city of Bridgetown from Atlanta.
Not only is Atlanta a key source market, but air links between Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport and 90-plus U.S. cities make it an unrivaled connecting point for other travelers, Alvin Jemmott, chairman of Barbados Tourism Marketing Inc., told Global Atlanta at a dinner on the eve of the flight’s relaunch.
Along with Atlanta, Delta is starting a nonstop flight from New York-JFK. Both services will run twice weekly on Thursdays and Saturdays on Boeing 737 aircraft with 160 seats.
The seasonal flights come just as the high tourist season begins, allowing travelers to more conveniently visit sandy beaches, the oldest Jewish synagogue in the Western Hemisphere and the house where George Washington stayed on his only overseas trip – or, if you’re so inclined, the musical environment that produced the pop and R&B sensation Rihanna.
But if Barbados hopes to fill enough seats to persuade Delta increase frequencies or extend the flight all year round, Mr. Jemmott said it needs to highlight its “sophisticated lifestyle.” Destination weddings are becoming more popular, and the island is staking its claim as the “culinary capital of the Caribbean” as it wraps up its fifth annual Food and Wine and Rum Festival, he said. Edward Layne, the Barbados honorary consul in Atlanta, noted that the small island of nearly 300,000 people is packed with more restaurants than you could visit in a year.
The island has also made its name known by hosting international cultural events and sporting competitions. December brings the Classical/Pops Festival, where an all-star orchestra composed of symphony members from Boston, New York and Atlanta will perform at the Apes Hill Golf Club. On the same day, a Race of Champions will bring elite drivers from Formula One, NASCAR and other associations to compete at the Bushy Park circuit.
“All those things happening makes Barbados a destination that is more than sea, sand and sun,” Mr. Jemmott said.
The U.S. only accounts for about a quarter of Barbados’s tourist traffic, while the former British colony hosts a substantial number of visitors from the United Kingdom and continental Europe.
“That’s what has kept us afloat during this tough economic time, where we’ve just had to be able to shift markets a little bit. We’ve never really got away from the U.S. market, because it’s a very important market for us,” Mr. Jemmott said.
But nonstop flights represent a new opportunity to gain American market share, especially among the Barbadian diaspora in Atlanta, New York and Miami.
“I’m 100 percent Barbadian and I will tell you that a Barbadian will prefer to take the direct flight, every day,” he said.
Especially yesterday: While Mr. Jemmott lauded American Airlines as a crucial partner for Barbados in Miami, a delayed connecting flight there had him landing in Atlanta at 3 a.m.
The Barbadian consul general from Miami, Colin Mayers, a former cargo pilot himself, visited Atlanta to attend the launch festivities, preceded the previous evening by a dinner with travel agents and writers, Delta representatives, event planners, resort managers and members of the diaspora.
A few weeks before the new flight began, Delta announced that it would support a 2015 initiative to promote science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM, education throughout the Caribbean.
“It is important to foster the region’s economic development and one of the ways to achieve this is by supporting the education of talented youth,” said Maria Fernanda Price, Delta’s general manager for the Caribbean, in a news release. The airline said it’s investing in the communities it serves as it seeks to become a premier Latin American and Caribbean carrier.
Delta will help enable elite high schoolers from the region to visit Barbados on a four-week study program designed by Harvard and MIT professors. The goal is to garner funding from the diaspora to keep talented students engaged in these fields.
Backed by the Barbados Association of Atlanta Scholarship Committee, the Caribbean Diaspora for Science, Technology and Innovation and Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, the program was outlined during a Nov. 22 event in Atlanta. On the same night, a gala was held to celebrate 48 years of Barbadian independence while raising scholarship money. In attendance were Dr. Layne, the honorary consul, and vice honorary consul David Cutting, and a variety of other community members.
Barbados Tourism Marketing Inc.’s U.S. director, Petra Roach, also visited Atlanta for the Dec. 4 launch festivities and inaugural flight. The agency is represented locally by Claudia Young-Hill. She can be reached at 678-418-7555 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
A quick scan of Delta.com shows fares ranging from $674 and $1652 on Christmas day, heading back down to $570 in January.