Last year, more than 200,000 U.S. travelers visited the Caribbean island of Barbados, an 8.4 percent increase over 2017, making it the fourth consecutive record-setting year in U.S. tourism arrivals to the former British colony, according to Barbados Tourism Marketing Inc.
"These numbers are a testament to the fact that Barbados is a leading year-round destination," said Petra Roach, U.S. director of New York City-based BTMI, in a statement. She added that increased nonstop air service from the U.S., as well as new tourism product developments, helped propel the increase in U.S. visitors, a market BTMI has been focused on growing since Roach took the helm of the agency in 2015.
However, other regional factors are at play in the island's increase in U.S. visitor traffic in 2018. The devastating effects of 2017’s Hurricane Maria, which Barbados was lucky enough to avoid, continued to play out last year on a number of Caribbean islands competing for American visitors, including Puerto Rico, St. Maarten and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Many hotels in these destinations were still in the throes of renovations last year, many of them not reopening until the final quarter of 2018 and the first quarter of this year.
While BTMI is predicting that Barbados will sustain its U.S. visitor momentum in 2019, it will face headwinds, and not just from increased competition from neighboring islands eager to get back into the game. Several new tourism tax increases will make the island a more costly choice for travelers.
On Oct. 1, 2018, the island's newly elected government, in an effort to quell a significant budget crisis, raised the departure fee for travelers flying outside of the Caribbean region to US$70. In addition, as of Jan. 1, 2020, the nightly hotel tax on guest rooms will be doubled to 15 percent (the 7.5 percent tax rate will continue to apply to lodging bookings made by July 31, 2018 for travel through June 30, 2019). In addition, a new 2.5 percent tax on tourism products, such as island tours, meals and spa services, will also go into effect.