If this island is to remain competitive as far as tourism is concerned, then it has to be able to attract a melting pot of persons from not only the diaspora, but throughout the world. Diversity, attractiveness and affordability must go hand-in-hand with quality service and value for money, since today, discerning travelers are demanding more bang for their buck.???
Although the usual attractions of sand, sea and sun may be drawing cards for many, the accent is on making Barbados??? tourism package second to none.
Hence, the creation of Run Barbados some three decades ago. It is testimony of the Barbados Tourism Authority???s (BTA) mandate to create events that will give the island a much needed leg-up over the competition.
Conceptualised by former BTA???s president Austin Sealy and Carl Bayley of Geddes Grant in 1982, the race was created as a way to jumpstart the winter season by giving tourism arrivals a boost during December- the slow period.
Now in its 30th year, the race has evolved into an exciting athletic event, emerging as one of the Barbados Tourism Authority???s premier sporting attractions with visitors and locals demonstrating not only friendly rivalry and athletic prowess, but a spirit of camaraderie that epitomises the race???s slogan- Come for The Run-Stay for the Fun!
To date, the competition consists of the Powerade Fun Mile and 10k; the ICBL 3k, half marathon, 5k and Digicel 4G CEO Challenge, and has attracted major sponsorship throughout its existence, thus successfully marrying sports and entertainment into a fun-filled package.
Manager of Sports at the BTA, Gregory Armstrong, admitted that chiefly as a result of the global recession, the numbers have been fluctuating over the years as far as visitor participation was concerned and this had posed some challenges. However, he noted that that there were more entrants this year than for 2012.
With Run Barbados marketed primarily through the BTA???s offices in the major source markets, such as Canada, the United States, Europe and the Caribbean, participants come from as far as the United Kingdom, Italy and other European nations. Mr. Armstrong attributed this interest in the race over the years to Barbados??? good reputation, noting that persons who come to the island ???do a good job by spreading the word???.
???Our aim is to make this the best race in the Caribbean. We???ve had some challenges with the longer races like the marathon, hence the reason you haven???t seen it this year and last year.
And the problem with that is that most of the teams that would come have a problem with us not being able to close the roads for the duration of the race. And when you look at the two wings, the south and the west coast that is, where our major tourism business is, to close those roads off for any significant time is going to cause a challenge,??? he underlined.
The sports manager said the BTA???s ultimate aim was to increase participation to at least between 2,000 to 3,000 visitors, with ???a very strong local presence???.
???The reason for that is we believe that if we have strong local presence and the people overseas see that there is a local involvement such as you have with Crop Over and we have had with the Food [and Rum] and Wine [Festival], they would want to come,??? he observed.
Avid runner and repeat visitor Shaun Thompson, has been coming to the island for over five years not just to compete in Run Barbados, but to relax and experience what the island has to offer.
?????? I???ve been coming to Barbados for about 25 years now with my family and I love the island. I come back periodically. I brought my wife in 2004 and told her what a fabulous island it was. What got me into Run Barbados was that year I actually saw some people on a Sunday morning running with numbers on and I???d run a few races in the UK, up to and including the half marathon, so I was quite interested in seeing what that was and what they were doing, [and] found out about the running festival. So we came back the next year [at] the same time and one of the first things I did was [I] went on to the Run Barbados website and found out how exactly I could enroll, got my number and ran it for the first time I think in 2004. And this year 2013 will be my sixth year of running it,??? he boasted proudly.
Hailing from Bournemouth, England, the 46-year-old entrepreneur and his wife Margaret have made coming to Barbados a tradition, mingling with Bajans and sampling local cuisine.
???Actually, we got married on December 8, here eight years ago. So the fact that all of those things come together within a two or three-day period is perfect. So it combines with celebrating my wife???s birthday [on December 6]; celebrating our anniversary and also I get to run the race. So you can say it???s a win, win, win,??? he gushed.
Added to that, he attested to building and attaining many lasting friendships throughout the time he and his wife have been coming to Barbados, noting, ???It???s very social and we???ve met quite a few people from the Run Barbados series who I tend to see every year. And also there???s a lot of English people that come here.
???There are so many great things about the island and there???s so many friendly people here and there are lots of reasons to come back. It???s not just sitting on a beach and getting a lovely tan-there are some fabulous people here. We always get out and about in rural Barbados.???
Not only does the race attract visitors such as Margaret and Shaun from the traditional markets, but there are many competitors who hail from neighbouring CARICOM territories, including 25 year-old, Trinidadian 10k competitor, Tonya Nero who placed third in her pet event.
???My mum lives here and I ran the race last year and I came fifth and I got sponsored to come here ???I like the course, really flat and nice and today it was really cool outside and I enjoyed the weather,??? she said.
Run Barbados 2013 has ended and the competitors have returned to their destinations. There is no more cheering from the boisterous crowd, or reporters clamouring for interviews from the winners, but tourism officials are working assiduously to make sure that come December 2014, many more persons will be singing the praises of the race and indeed Barbados.