Barbados’ Minister of Tourism, Richard Sealy, held extensive talks with the Chief Executive Officer of COPA Airlines, Pedro Heilbron, this week in Panama.
When he emerged from the near hour-long discussions, which included the Minister of Industry, Small Business and Rural Development, Denis Kellman, and other top Barbados Government officials, all a tightlipped Minister Sealy would say is: "We had a very encouraging meeting with the CEO of COPA Airlines."
In an earlier interview with the Barbados Government Information Service, he said he "would love to see that [COPA] flight in the air as soon as possible". He added: "It would be wonderful if during the course of 2012, the latest being early 2013, we could have that direct flight." A Memorandum of Understanding was signed in July this year between the Governments of Barbados and Panama to assist in facilitating air links.
Mr. Sealy expressed the view that the mission to Panama this week would assist the tourism industry. "The traditional tourism markets alone cannot do it. It would be a gross dereliction of my responsibility for the Tourism portfolio if I simply was to plan the next 50 years of Barbados’ tourism industry on arrivals from only the UK, Canada and the US.
"I am not saying that we do not want to get more business from North America and Europe, we do. But, every other serious tourism destination in the world … is looking for the non-traditional source markets and they are doing well," he underscored.
He pointed out that tourism officials were now seeing the emergence of a consuming class in parts of Asia and Latin America who wanted to enjoy the finer things, including a tropical island vacation, and therefore our tourism product must be offered to them.
He said Brazil had its challenges, but stressed it was encouraging to see arrivals from that destination up over the first year of operation. "And, that tells me that we can sell our product in this part of the world and we have to do it. They are emerging, they are growing… and Latin America is where we have to be from a tourism point of view.
"It is going to take time, there are language issues, there are cultural issues, but the whole point of maturing as a destination, maturing as a people, is to be able to accept these cultural differences and to still tailor the Bajan hospitality to make your tourism offering that more international. We have to do it or we will be left behind," Mr. Sealy maintained.