March 17, 2022
Interview with Barbados Minister of tourism Hon. Lisa Cummins
What makes Barbados attractive to visitors?
When you think about the existing product on the island in terms of rooms, hotels, and villas, you can see that Barbados is very much as people describe it – a playground for the rich and the famous. But I think the beautiful thing about Barbados is that although people come and they’re able to enjoy the luxury, they’re equally able to walk down the street and go to a local bar or a shop and find that true Caribbean authenticity.
Are you seeing new investments into the luxury tourism segment?
Absolutely. Many people who have always worked with Barbados are still tremendously confident in the market here and so they’re continuing to invest in existing products. There are also investors who are making their way to Barbados and who ask us what opportunities are available as they really want to do business here. To give an example, the Royalton, which is a new product that’s coming up on the West Coast, is a brand-new investment connected to Canadian investors.
There are also new products that are still being designed today. I recently had a meeting about a new product that will be on the east coast where there is literally nothing at the moment. Once it is approved, it will be managed by one of the ultra-luxury brands. Again, it’s a brand-new investment. So, I think our traditional partners are staying firm and remaining in the market, but there are also new partners who are very much looking forward to working with Barbados.
How are you going to ensure that Barbados stays at the top of the luxury market?
When the pandemic started, we launched the Welcome Stamp, which is the digital nomad programme. There were many people who attempted to replicate what Barbados was doing but Barbados remained in the high-end market. People had to have a minimum annual income to qualify to be in Barbados for a year; in other words, they had to be able to support themselves independently of the state.
What that meant was that we attracted the type of people who are top CEOs or own Fortune 500 companies, and they and their employees or families have been here under the Welcome Stamp Programme.
And they came, they saw, they loved it! And many of them have stayed. But even many of those that have not stayed, have bought real estate in some of the most exclusive neighbourhoods. And some of them have subsequently applied for permission to open multi-level condo facilities or to rent villas out.
What more is Barbados doing to attract investment and move away from the “sun, sea and sand” concept?
We’ve always been about sun, sea, sand, and tourism has always been our main client. But we’ve also had other latch-key or anchor industries and there needs to be more. Our new government have made two main commitments. These were to anchor and diversify our traditional markets and sectors, at the same time as creating new opportunities in areas that we had not had before.
These will be things like a science and technology park, with a significant emphasis being placed on renewable energy and green investment. We will also continue to look at how to position the tourism sector in the high ultra-luxury segment.
What are other plans afoot?
When we were in government last time, we looked at offshore islands, something you see a lot of in the Middle East. Barbados carried out a commission study on where and to what extent we could create offshore islands. One of my priorities is working with the relevant teams and potential investors to identify at least one offshore island for development in Barbados, which would then create new opportunities for investment in real estate. Sir Paul Altman has an entire concept that he would love to be able to roll out and I’m hoping that we’re able to work with him.
Furthermore, developing an island would create new opportunities for employment. In order to provision the island, agricultural and manufacturing opportunities would arise as well as artisanal and creative opportunities.
The idea is that someone can be on the beach early in the morning before jumping on a Zoom call with their Zurich headquarters, and then go and play golf followed by a rum and coke in the local bar; all the while still thinking about how they’re going to expand their investment portfolio with all these new projects that Barbados is doing.
What are the new markets you are working with?
We met with the Saudis last year. We are also working with the United Arab Emirates as we have a new ambassador who’s based there. In our manifesto, we expressly mentioned the priorities in terms of markets such as Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia in the Middle East. We mentioned Ghana and Kenya on the African continent. And we want to move south into Latin America as well. Beyond the UK, which is our main source market; we have begun to open up gateways through Germany and Amsterdam but we’re also looking at which other markets we should be prioritizing.
We are now in the process of finalizing negotiations on an air services agreement with Saudi Arabia and Qatar. We have already signed an air services agreement with Kenya, and in the coming weeks, we expect to do the same with Ghana.
What is luxury for you?
Luxury is so different for so many people. For me, luxury is laying in a hammock and watching the sunset with a great book – usually on something connected to women’s leadership – with a great bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon somewhere close by! Another luxury is having an amazing massage in one of the many spas on the island. Luxury is also being able to sit in that hammock and hear beautiful Barbadian music playing in the background reminding me that I’m in the best place in the world. It can also be about going to a fantastic restaurant to eat amazing food in a great location, with perfect ambience and wonderful service.