Creating a Caribbean cruising haven in Barbados

Cheryl Franklin, executive director of Cruise Barbados, tells Rebecca Gibson how the organisation is working with partners to encourage cruise lines to make longer calls and bring bigger ships to Barbados

Creating a Caribbean cruising haven in Barbados
Cheryl Franklin has been executive director of Cruise Barbados since early 2017 (Image: Cruise Barbados)

Named in honour of the Bearded Fig Trees that were once found in abundance on its shores, the Caribbean island of Barbados is renowned for its beaches, natural beauty, cultural heritage, year-round clement climate and its friendly inhabitants. The former British colony has long been a popular destination for travellers in the land-based tourism sector who are searching for Caribbean luxury, and it’s also fast becoming a firm favourite for cruise guests.

“Barbados is an aspirational destination for many travellers as they know it offers a diverse range of immersive onshore experiences, tours and attractions – there really is something for everyone, regardless of their personal interests and preferences,” says Cheryl Franklin, executive director of Cruise Barbados. “The island is also a very safe destination with warm, friendly and hospitable locals and professional service providers who delight in welcoming visitors. All these factors are driving demand for cruises to Barbados; some travellers want to come back and do everything they didn’t get a chance to the first time, others have never been and want to try it for themselves.”

Cruise Barbados is to find ways to enable cruise visitors to experience as much of Barbados as possible during their short calls.

“Land-based guests often stay for more than a week, so they’ve got plenty of time to explore the island and try out all the different attractions, but most cruise ships only spend a few hours in port,” says Franklin. “We want cruise guests to experience essence of Barbados, so we’re working with public and private sector stakeholders to create special excursions that enable them to sample the island’s culture, heritage, cuisine, beaches and natural beauty in one go. Not only are we exploring how different businesses can work together to create completely new tours, but we’re also looking at how we can give guests the chance to enjoy special events on the island. For example, 2018 is the ‘Year of Culinary Experiences’ in Barbados, so we’re collaborating with tour operators to incorporate visits to special culinary events into existing shore excursions or develop new tours.”

Barbados is now a popular homeporting hub for the Southern Caribbean and 14 cruise lines make regular calls to the island. However, Franklin and her team want to encourage cruise lines to bring newer and bigger ships, make more extended and overnight calls, and increase their visits during the summer season.

“There’s always something exciting happening on the island – day and night – so we’re talking to cruise lines to help them understand how they can take advantage of all our immersive product offerings and take the ‘wow’ factor they create on their ships to the shore,” says Franklin. “We’re developing more pre- and post-cruise offerings and services for guests too. To achieve this, we need to focus on responding to guests’ needs and exceed their expectations by expanding our onshore offerings with new and exciting tours and attractions. We also need to change our port infrastructure to cater for increased cruise traffic, so the port is making its own ongoing improvements too.”

Cruise Barbados will also continue promoting the island’s cruise product to both cruise lines and their guests. The organisation achieves this by sharing marketing collateral across multiple digital and physical channels, as well as by attending regional and international conferences and trade shows. One of the key events for Cruise Barbados is Seatrade Cruise Global, which takes place every March in Florida, US. Not only is Seatrade an effective platform for showcasing the Cruise Barbados brand, but the conferences sessions, presentations and State of The Industry address provide the organisation with an ideal opportunity to catch up with everything that is going on in the regional and global cruise industry.

“We can learn what’s working well in other regions of the world and hear about new guest expectations, destination trends, environmental initiatives and shipbuilding or operational trends from key cruise line executives, tour operators and other leading industry players,” explains Franklin. “This allows us to better understand and respond to the changing needs of both cruise lines and their guests. Plus, we’re able to meet with the Florida-Caribbean Cruise Association and representatives from other Caribbean islands so we can develop, and then promote, new multi-island Caribbean itineraries. This is particularly helpful as we’re currently trying to develop more demand for the Southern Caribbean.”

In 2018, Cruise Barbados used Seatrade to showcase a series of tourism-related developments that are taking place on the island – including both existing attractions that are being significantly renovated and completely new offerings.

“This year we had the largest-ever number of exhibitors on the Cruise Barbados stand, so there was a great collaborative spirit and energy among all the stakeholders,” says Franklin. “We also held our first-ever media interviews this year, which went very well and allowed us to share all of the exciting developments to a wider audience. Next year I hope we can involve the private stakeholders in these interviews so that we can ensure Barbados is top of mind for every cruise line.”

Led by Franklin since early 2017, Cruise Barbados is already helping the island to attract record cruise traffic. Last year, Barbados welcomed more than 818,000 cruise passengers.

“I’m really excited by everything that is happening in Barbados this year,” says Franklin. “We’ve got a lot of new developments on the horizon and they’re just the beginning.”

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Rebecca Gibson
By Rebecca Gibson
Tuesday, May 1, 2018