Top Gear Festival Breathes New Life Into Tourism

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It was a picture perfect day for a history-making event. Brilliant sunshine, thousands of screaming racing fans and the daredevil feats of international race car drivers such as Lewis Hamiliton, who skillfully manoeuvred in speed machines, leaving a lasting impression for motorsport fanatics at the redeveloped Bushy Park racing circuit.

Last weekend???s staging of the Top Gear Festival, lived up to the hype among motoring circles here and abroad, as some super cars, some with more than 600 horsepower engines, thrilled an audience that included Minister of Tourism and International Transport, Richard Sealy, other top tourism officials and Top Gear presenters, Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond and James May.

Mr. Sealy outlined the benefits of Top Gear to the future development of the island???s tourism product, during an interview with the Barbados Government Information Service at the event.??He disclosed that the Barbados Tourism Authority (BTA) had signed a three-year contract with the producers of the Top Gear Festival for future events ??? a welcome development for motor racing.??

???This is the first of what will be three editions in the first instance. It is interesting to note, however, that producers of the festival have already started to suggest that they would like to see it as an annual event which happens elsewhere,??? Mr. Sealy underlined.

The Tourism Minister said hosting the festival on an annual basis was a realistic expectation since it was the first time that the Top Gear festival was held in the Western Hemisphere.

???Top Gear is tremendously popular and that goes without saying in terms of what we can get from the festival. But, since we have had the head start and we have an exclusive [contract] for three years, we have to make sure that the event goes so wonderful that it would make them [Top Gear Producers] want to make it an annual event,??? Mr. Sealy emphasised.

Speaking about the redeveloped Bushy Park Racing Circuit, he said more work was still to be done and when completed it would ???be the mecca for the region and viewed as one of the finest places to have motor sports in the world. I think we have to have that kind of vision in mind and we are on the way there???.

The Tourism Minister said from a global sports tourism perspective, there was nothing that stood out like motor sports. He said more than 3,000 spectators came into the island for the event and added that one could ???move big numbers??? with the staging of motor sports events.

???There is no limit to what we can do for Barbados through [the] motor sports/tourism fusion which we want to develop. We have been at it for a while???we have had the June rally and we used to have the Bushy Park event, I think in October, but now we can take it to an entirely different level,??? he added.

Mr. Sealy also disclosed that negotiations were already ongoing to bring other major events to the island.

???We are open to business. We cannot do Formula 1 here because the track is not up to that standard. But we can do just about anything else. The Red Bull Global Rallycross??? opening event for the 2014 season is being held here, the defending champion is here???Ken Block, [he] is a legend in that field ???That is an amazing accomplishment. That tells you that if we can get Global Rally Cross here, imagine when we finish Bushy Park what we can possibly get here,??? he stated.

He also said that motorsports was ???hugely popular??? in the island???s two major source markets ??? the United Kingdom and the United States – and noted that government was ???clearly on to something good here???.

Giving his assessment of the benefits of Top Gear, Minister of Finance and Economic Affairs, Christopher Sinckler, said that motor racing would drive the economy forward in a tremendous way because of its global appeal and large spectator following.

He pointed out that Top Gear had one of the largest followings on television and was one of the most watched television shows in the world and added: ???This is marketing that the BTA could not simply pay for because we do not have the resources. It is specialty events that would help push our tourism and differentiate it around the core that we do in tourism.???

He said events, hosted close to the end of the winter season and starting close to the beginning of summer, were necessary to generate foreign exchange for Barbados.??Additionally, Mr. Sinckler stated that the Top Gear Festival attracted several wealthy visitors who expressed an interest in purchasing a second home or pursuing other types of investment in Barbados.

[Their presence], is also building that network of investor friendship that would be great for Barbados so doing this was a no-brainer???,??? he said.??Mr. Sinckler described the Top Gear Festival as a great opportunity to jumpstart the economy and disclosed that this was the start of other things to come in tourism.

Meanwhile, to the scores of adoring racing fans, the Top Gear Festival was a welcome addition to an already packed sports tourism calendar. British visitors Keiron Tellaney and Stuart Whittington, hailing from Wales, reported that they witnessed ???some skillful manoeuvres, spills and thrills??? and had ???a fantastic experience???.

As popcorn and other vendors did a brisk trade, vendor Andrea Gooding, expressed delight about her sales, disclosing that she had sold eight dozen umbrellas before midday.??Friends Joshua Clarke, Romain Marshall, and Nicholas Greenidge were impressed with the new track and the event in general. They said motor racing was good for the country and added that more emphasis should be placed on its development.

On the track, Formula One driver Lewis Hamilton did not disappoint his adoring fans. As the star attraction, he made four appearances, the first one at noon, and each time the impressive teal and silver Mercedes AMG Petronas F 1 zipped by faster and faster with some breathtaking manoeuvres.??Professional American Rally driver, Ken Block, did not disappoint either. Behind the wheel of a Ford Fiesta ST, he too thrilled the crowd with moves of his own.

The Top Gear Festival created much buzz among the racing fraternity and one thing is certain, those who were a part of this history-making event, will have their own unique stories to tell for generations to come, but what also makes it great is its potential to pump thousands of dollars in foreign exchange into this economy.

julie.carrington@barbados.gov.bb

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