Internationally, tourism has become one of the most powerful and rapidly developing industries, with an extremely diversified range of products and a varying degree of impact on economies of various regions. In the era of globalization, people enjoy the opportunity and have the means to travel virtually to any destination; thus, tourist destinations now need to offer unique services to satisfy demanding tastes of tourists. In addition, one and the same tourist destination has to offer different yet high quality services to various groups of population with account for their income and spending capacity in view of maintaining a stable inflow of revenues into the industry of that place. In some countries, such as Barbados, tourism plays a crucial role in the life and economy of the entire country hence becoming a priority not only for private entrepreneurs but also for the government.
The current paper provides a profile of such tourist destination as Barbados, with a special emphasis on the brief overview of the tourist industry in this location in general, assessment of its sustainability, analysis of opportunities for the niche tourism, as well as critically evaluation of implications for sustainable development within the profiled destination. Overall, tourism is the key sector of the economy on Barbados and an integral part of the life of its community. Therefore, its sustainable development and diversification of services are crucial for survival of the entire island country, which cannot cope with the recent economic crisis without the share of revenues streaming from its tourism sector. Particularly, a special focus is placed on the development of niche tourism, including eco-tourism, sports tourism, and medical tourism, which, currently, are the most lucrative directions.
According to the government report, Barbados “will continue to make the industry a priority in national policy decisions, foster the development of competitive and responsible business models and practices and increase cooperation between the public and private sectors” (Hall 2012). Despite the fact that the tourism industry already plays a vital role in the existence of the country due to its share in the GDP, high employment rate, and stake in the development of infrastructure of the island, the government of Barbados acknowledges the necessity to radically transform the industry in order to make it competitive in the international market. The fact of the matter is that the country’s tourism has been affected hard by the recent economic crisis and the following recession in many developed countries, which has resulted in the loss of a significant share of the market. However, the Barbadian government believes that there is still a hope “for economic salvation” that is represented by tourism in the short and medium run thus advocating for the need to make the country “a destination of choice globally based on the offering of its products, services, rich cultural heritage, affordability and intrinsic value” (Hall 2012). Therefore, sustainable development of the industry and diversification of services by niches are the top priorities in Barbados in line with the White Paper for Tourism Development and the Tourism Master Plan 2012-2021 developed by the government of Barbados (Hall 2012). According to the official statistics, the tourism industry of Barbados accounted for 54% of foreign currency earnings, 10% of employment, and 14% of GDP in 2011. However, unofficial data are even more prominent since there are many private resorts, villas, venues, restaurants, shops, and other places that depend on a stable inflow of tourists, which implies that tourism is the major source of income for the overwhelming majority of businesses and individuals on the island. Also, tourism plays the key role in sustainable development of infrastructure, environmental programs, and education for the islanders (Worrell et al. 2011). In general, the path of tourism development in Barbados mirrors that of the global tourism industry and especially tourism in the Caribbean region though with slight deviations. Nowadays, Barbados attracts tourists coming from all possible segments and from different regions of the world, but still, the main source market of the country is represented by the UK, and the UK tourists spend on average 27% more than tourists from other countries (Worrell et al. 2011). In addition, over the past few years, the number of tourists from North America and especially Canada has decreased yet the government cannot rationalize this fact based on internal factors since Barbadian prices have remained competitive on the market, which means that the problem resides in the source market (Worrell et al. 2011).
However, tourism has not always been an integral component of the Barbadian economy. Although trips to the country started more than two centuries ago, tourism emerged only in the nineteenth century after the advent of the steamship (Greenidge & Greenidge 2011). Until the 1960s, tourists to the island were represented by the elite mainly from North America and the UK, who preferred to spend winters in the warm country or travelled exclusively to exotic places (Worrell et al. 2011). After commercialization of the jet engine, the tourism industry started to gradually expand on the island till it became one of the three key sectors of the economy in the 1990s. The tourism sector abounds in private entrepreneurs, with more than a half of accommodation services now being offered by the locals while in the 1950s – 1970s, foreign entities dominated this market (Greenidge & Greenidge 2011). Nevertheless, such a boom in the industry would not have been possible without the governmental support. Thus, the first regulation aimed at expanding tourism on the island was the Hotel Aids Act adopted in 1956 that waived duties on various building materials for hotels and “offered a seven-year income tax holiday for eligible establishments” (Worrell et al. 2011). It was followed by the Barbados Development Act of 1958 and the Tourism Development Act of 2002 (Worrell et al. 2011). The industry is supervised by the Barbados Tourism Authority tasked with international marketing of the industry and the Ministry of Tourism established in 1985 (Worrell et al. 2011). Initially, the industry was developing by virtue of private investments, with significant assistance from the government in the form of lower taxes, abolishment of some custom duties, subsidies, low interest financing for local businesses, etc. First well-known hotels were opened on the east coast of the island in the 1800s and included the Crane Resort, the Sandy Lane subdivision, Coral Reef, and Colony Club while the west coast became a high profile tourist destination in the early 1960s (Property Consultancy Services Inc. 2009). The tourism sector has been significantly contributed by opening of the Grantley Adams International Airport in 1976, the duty free cruise terminal in 1994, as well as subsequent establishment of a scheduled Concorde service to Barbados from London, which is now an attractive tourist destination despite its decommission (Property Consultancy Services Inc. 2009).
Therefore, over the years, the number of long-stay tourists has increased to 518,564 in 2009 as compared to 17,829 in 1956 (Greenidge & Greenidge 2011). The amount of cruise passengers reached 635,212 in 2009 (Greenidge & Greenidge 2011). Besides a great variety of private resorts, the government has decided to invest in the industry and now owns several resorts under the Gems of Barbados project, including Blue Horizons (129 rooms), the Savannah (100 rooms), Time Out at the Gap (76 rooms), and Silver Rock (70 rooms) (Greenidge & Greenidge 2011). Although the project has been controversial due to the allege $60 million in investments, it has proved to be beneficial for an overall increase in the accommodation quality on the island. Special attention is nowadays devoted to the development of niche and sustainable tourism, which will be reviewed in more detail in subsequent sections of the paper. However, it is essential mention the government’s interest in hosting various international competitions such as the 2006 World Gold Championship World Cup and the Cricket World Cup finals of 2007. It is also remarkable that the government pays attention not only to economic development of the country but also to environmental protection, which is enhanced through development of various innovative campaigns like the Adopt-a-beach campaign launched by the Coastal Zone Management Unit (Greenidge & Greenidge 2011). Under this campaign, individuals, local businesses, schools, and everyone willing are encouraged to adopt a beach and look after it over a prolonged period of time. This program has been so successful that it has been replicated in some other tourist destinations in other parts of the world. Naturally, there are many challenges and threats posed by the tourism industry in Barbados yet it is a vital part of its economy and life, which provides living of the population. Therefore, the government of the country and ordinary citizens are committed to supporting and constantly improving the industry through adoption of such novel methodologies and strategies as the popular concept of sustainable tourism development and niche tourism development.
The government of Barbados is generally committed to promotion of sustainable development policy on all domains, with its “lynch-pin” being “that the primary development objective in Barbados ought to be the optimization of quality of life for present and future generations, while ensuring that economic growth and development is not achieved at the expense of our ecological capital” (National Commission on Sustainable Development Government of Barbados 2004). In the contemporary world, the concept of sustainability has become extremely popular and useful in all spheres of human activity. However, it is relatively new in the tourism sector, which explains why it is not properly and fully understood in all tourist destinations hence accounting for failures in its implementation. For the first time, the concept of sustainability was mentioned in 1987 by the World Commission on Environment and Development in the Brutland Report whereby it meant development that met “needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs” (Greenidge & Greenidge 2011). This concept has significantly evolved since that time primarily through adoption of various international instruments and regulations relating to the issue, in particular Agenda 21 of the National Nations Conference on Environment and Development and the World Summit on Sustainable Development. Today, this concept encompasses three key principles, which are economic sustainability, social sustainability, and environmental sustainability (United Nations Environment Programme and World Tourism Organization 2005).
In the context of tourism, sustainable tourism development means “tourism that takes full account of its current and future economic, social and environmental impacts, addressing the needs of visitors, the industry, the environment and host communities” (United Nations Environment Programme and World Tourism Organization 2005). This notion is implemented through application of various respective policies and principles. For instance, the WTO states that sustainable tourism development implies the best possible use of all available environmental resources, preservation of the natural heritage, conversion of biodiversity, respect for cultural peculiarities of local communities, preservation of their cultural heritage, values, traditions, and norms, promotion of tolerance and intercultural connections, establishment of “viable, long-term economic operations,” “socio-economic benefits to all stakeholders that are fairly distributed, including stable employment and income-earning opportunities and social services to host communities, and contributing to poverty alleviation” (Greenidge & Greenidge 2011). Thus, there are four key dimensions of sustainable tourism development: economic sustainability, social sustainability, environmental sustainability, and institutional sustainability (United Nations Environment Programme and World Tourism Organization 2005). This notion is closely interconnected with the concept of carrying capacity, which means the maximum amount of people that can use some area, without any lasting adverse impacts on the region, reduction in the customer satisfaction, and any detriment to the host population (Greenidge & Greenidge 2011). Assessment of sustainable tourism development in a certain tourist destination is a rather subjective process since there is no uniform process of evaluation, and different international institutions and countries adopt their own assessment techniques. For instance, the WTO offers 11 indicators while the English Tourism Council suggests using 20 indicators, and the OECD has 27 indicators used in the assessment. Figure 1 in the Appendix provides a summary of sustainable tourism development in Barbados carried out by the Central Bank of Barbados.
So far, the tourism industry in Barbados may be deemed more or less sustainable. The government of the country has taken considerable efforts to promote sustainable tourism development, for instance, by adopting the Green Paper on Sustainable Tourism in Barbados. Thus, the Barbados Ministry of Tourism has declared the following in this direction:
To pursue sustainable tourism development through improvement and optimal use of our land, human resources and services, and through the conservation and managed use of our cultural, built and natural heritage, in order to ensure a product of the highest quality whilst improving the life and economic development of the people of Barbados (Barbados Ministry of Tourism 2001).
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Withal, Barbadian tourism benefits greatly from its picturesque scenery, tropical geographical location, warm and pleasant climate throughout the entire year, safe sandy beaches suitable for water sports, well-developed infrastructure, political stability, hospitability, strong traditions, rich culture, and welcoming people who are ready to cater for all wishes of global tourists. Its efficiency is complemented by commitment to eco-tourism and niche tourism, with primary short-term focus on medical and sports tourism and future potential for development of other niche kinds of tourism. The government’s support guarantees future development of the industry in the country. In addition, analysis of the economic data proves that the industry is bound to develop and bring profits despite a recent financial setback because of the economic crisis impacts. However, there are some adverse impacts that may hinder efficient sustainable tourism development, including disruption of natural ecosystems, strain in terms of energy and water resources, lack of some infrastructure components, locals’ tensions with tourists because of beach access restrictions and cultural differences, and some other potential negative aspects. Nevertheless, the analysis has shown that the aforementioned aspects are not prominent in Barbados and that they do not have an adverse impact on the industry in general. On the contrary, the industry develops rapidly and is likely to become fully sustainable in the nearest future provided all governmental programs and initiatives are implemented according to the plan. The analysis leads to the conclusion that “tourists’ satisfaction is generally high, which means arrivals should continue to rise and this is one of the main measures of the economic success of tourism” (Greenidge & Greenidge 2011). However, such aspects of the tourism industry as design of a more competitive pricing policy, improvement of night life, expansion of shopping centres for various segments of the population have been rated good or average by tourists and specialists. With a view to establishing social sustainability of the tourism industry, it is already evident that the level of tension between the local population and tourists is relatively low and that there are no significant conflicts arising between them. Some minor tensions relating to restricted beach access may be solved through adoption of a respective guideline and raising awareness of the population about different tourism-related issues. Although instances of tension between the locals and tourists are rather rare, they still should be properly addressed by respective bodies. In regard to institutional sustainability, Barbados has a well-developed infrastructure and accommodation suitable for all segments of tourists. Naturally, there is still room for improvement, but the current state of affairs and declared development plans allow concluding that this aspect of tourism sustainability has been achieved.
Evaluation of sustainable tourism development within the profiled destination gives rise to several implications that should be taken into consideration when designing future programs and policies for further improvement of the industry. First of all, proper training and education should be ensured and provided to the local population on issues relating to sustainable tourism development and tourism management. Various institutions specializing in teaching students on provision of various services in demand that would contribute to sustainability within the industry may be useful. Besides, sustainable tourism development may be integrated into the curriculum of local schools and other educational facilities, which would be of benefit to all stakeholders since tourism is an integral part of the island community’s life. The industry is rapidly changing, and it is essential to devise educational programs that would be flexible and adaptive. The problem is that currently, there is quite little understanding in Barbados what sustainable tourism development really means despite numerous declarations of the country’s commitment to it. However, there is also evident progress in this direction if to compare the situation when this direction was first announced and today. Nevertheless, further training and education in this respect are required.
The second crucial implication concerns environment and negative impacts of tourism on it. The Barbadian government tries to address topical environmental issues and promotes campaigns aimed at sustainable development of the island eco-systems. The main avenue that requires much efforts and investment is recycling of waste. The island is comparatively small, and it cannot afford space for landfills given that they are unattractive from the aesthetic perspective and relatively dangerous from the ecological perspective. Therefore, the government should build some plants or develop other ways of how to dispose of waste, especially solid waste, without polluting the island and nearby waters.
Wastewater is another essential point to be taken into consideration. The West Coast Sewage project was at the stage of implementation from 1991 to 2004, which implies that the similar project for the east coast may take much time as well. It is advisable to design ways that would be implemented much quicker and would be long-lasting and efficient. Therefore, investments should be directed so as to ensure preservation of water resources on the island and rational management of wastewater. Proper use of modern technologies may assist in promoting sustainable tourism development in Barbados.
Another implication of the assessment of the current situation is the fact that some services may be improved and upgraded from the good category into the excellent one. Barbados posits itself as a tourist destination that caters for a wide range of needs and wishes of tourists with different incomes. However, there are some items lacking for the luxury and low-income segments although preservation of high quality services irrespective of the price should be ensured. Tourists would be attracted by a promise of a unique experience, which would encourage them to return to the same location and spend there more money and time. Overall, there are several implications arising out of evaluation of sustainable tourism development within the profiled destination, which should be accounted for in future policies and programs implemented in Barbados.
Nowadays, niche tourism is a popular trend all over the world. Tourists have become tired of conventional tourist programs and, therefore, seek new experiences, which are offered by niche tourism. The Caribbean region has declared its commitment to this kind of diversification of the industry and has arranged its development in the most suitable destinations. In the Caribbean region, niche tourism includes the following types: bird watching; charity tourism; culinary tourism; cultural, heritage and historical tourism; cycling; diving; extreme sports; festivals; fishing; golf; health, wellness and spa; homestays; MICE, i.e. Meetings, Incentives, Conference, Exhibition; sailing; set jetting; soft adventure; sports tourism; trekking; weddings and honeymoons; and wildlife tourism (Acorn Consulting Partnership Ltd. 2008). According to the report, Barbados has declared its commitment to development of the following niches within the tourism industry: bird watching, charity tourism, culinary tourism, cultural heritage, diving, extreme sports, festivals, fishing, golf, health, wellness, and spa, MICE, sailing, soft adventure, sports tourism, weddings and honeymoons, and wildlife tourism, i.e. it has declared development of quite a wide range of promising niches, which can guarantee sustainable development of the industry within the profiled destination (Acorn Consulting Partnership Ltd. 2008).
The Barbadian government currently declares its focus on such niches as sports tourism and festivals. Richard Sealy, the Minister of Tourism and International Transport, claims that “the sports tourism niche is quite active in Barbados with over disciplines of sports being practised here…and the sports tourism fusion has world extremely well for us, and we think that have only just begun” (Carrington 2014). In addition to the already popular kinds of sports like golf and cricket, the Ministry plans to turn the country into “the motors sports mecca of the Carribean” (Carrington 2014). Sports tourism is among the most important and rapidly developing niches in the industry in Barbados, which is evident from the following mission: “To position Barbados as the number one sports tourism destination in the Caribbean offering diverse and exciting opportunities for visitors, as well as the local communities, which result in direct economic and other benefits” (Jemmott 2013). Barbadian cricket and golf resorts are among the best in the world, and they have already hosted a number of international events. The government plans to use them further to attract professional athletes and amateur players in addition to developing all other available kinds of sport, with a special emphasis put on water sports. Moreover, there is a plan to start hosting various sports conferences and meetings, as well as offering training camps for athletes and teams from all over the world. Football is a promising sport in terms of sports tourism in Barbados.
In regard with the festival tourism, Mr. Sealy emphasizes the significance and potential of such festivals as Crop Over, “a legitimate gospel festival,” a reggae festival, the Barbados Food, Wine and Rum Festival, the Holders Season, as well as a number of smaller local festivals (Carrington 2014). The latter niche is not endorsed by the government but may turn out to be successful due to the efforts of the university community. The other promising niche concerns small conferences and meetings for specialists from various fields. With this purpose, special promotion campaigns and bonuses or deals with airlines may be useful. One of the ideas is to cooperate with specialized magazines that could then organize their meetings in Barbados. The island would be a perfect location for lovers of gardening due to its Hunte’s Gardens, Andromeda, and the Flower Forest (Loveridge 2014). These small niches may not be lucrative in terms of large scale economies, but they would still generate profit and attract tourists from all over the world.
Today, medical tourism is gaining popularity all around the world and is worth about $40 billion with significant annual growth according to some estimates. The top ten countries with highly developed medical tourism are located outside North America and Europe, and many specialists seek opportunities to relocate to some new destinations. Medical tourism includes not only surgical operations but also spas and wellness programs, as well as alternative medicine clinics. Therefore, Barbados may pursue this direction and become the first among Caribbean countries in this niche. Currently, medical tourism occupies a small share of the Barbadian tourism industry yet its potential has been recognized by the government that has established the Health and Wellness Tourism Task Force (Johnston et al. 2012). The existing top quality Barbadian medical tourism sites, which are highly competitive in the international market, include Barbados Fertility Clinic, Sparman Clinic, Island Dialysis, and a number of spa and wellness centres (Johnston et al. 2012). Medical tourism plans for future predominantly concern development of such sites as St. Joseph Hospital and the Queen Elizabeth Hospital (Johnston et al. 2012). The Barbados Fertility Clinic has JCI-certification and has gained international recognition due to the quality of services rendered, which makes it highly competitive, but it lacks proper marketing and is thus little known in the international market.
Overall, niche tourism development seems to be promising once appropriate programs and campaigns are implemented in Barbados. The country enjoys a favourable combination of conditions and possesses vast resources, which allows it to pursue several niches simultaneously, with eco-tourism, sports tourism, medical tourism, and festival tourism being among the most globally competitive under the current circumstances.
The current paper has provided a brief overview of the tourism industry in Barbados as the tourist destination chosen for profiling. Sustainable tourism development and implications of its assessment have been considered in addition to a summary of niche tourism opportunities presented on the basis of the conducted analysis. Despite a current hit of the financial crisis and a slight decrease in the revenues generated by international tourism, Barbados seems to retain its competitive advantage over many similar tourist destinations. Barbadian essential advantage consists in a favourable combination of natural conditions and governmental support of the industry accompanied by the investors’ interest in its further sustainable development and expansion. Barbados is committed to the declared program of sustainable tourism development and seeks new ways to attract customers from all segments of the population. Thus, the conducted evaluation and analysis prove that Barbados is among the most promising tourist destinations in terms of efficiency of implemented sustainable tourism development and niche development. The latter diversification of services promises to generate additional revenues for the country’s economy along with improving its reputation in the international market.