Barbados is as close as Baltimore-Washington International (BWI) Airport, and any Washington-area resident can now trade winter for summer in four hours. Non-stop flights by Caribbean Airways to Bridgetown, Barbados, depart BWI every Thursday and Sunday.
"People were already coming to Barbados, but they were finding it very difficult to do," said H.I. Allan, managing director of Caribbean Airways. The BWI service opens up a new market, he added.
"There are 1,000 hotel beds in Barbados," Allan said. "Our flights operate three times a week (Boston is also a departure point). If the planes are filled they will take up about 300 beds." The airline is presently using Boeing 707s but expects to swith to DC10s by Novemver 1979.
"This has been a good year for tourism," said Markly Wilson, manager of the Barbados Board of Tourism office in New York.
If Barbados is your destination this winter, have your travel agent doublecheck the reservations. High occupancy rates in any popular tourist area.
Gogo Tours, a large New Jersey-based wholesaler with offices in Washington, reports strong bookings this winter for its Barbados tours, which are sold only through travel agents who buy the basic package from Gogo. "Basic package" means a special reduced air fare (G.I.T. -- Group Inclusive Tour), hotel (but no meals), and airport transfers. A one-week package runs around $500. Gogo said it has heard no reports of overbooking or other problems in connection with hotels it offers.
Be prepared to pay a 10 percent service charge and 8 percent government tax on accommodations and meals. This can add up to a respectable amount when you consider that Barbados is one of the most expensive islands in the Caribbean. A double room at the Hilton Hotel will run, in winter, $84 to $98 a day, while a double at the Holiday Inn costs $86 to $96 per day. This is an average of $600 per week. The 18 percent gratuity and government tax, which is tacked on to the hotel bill, would come to $108.
Less expensive rooms are available at some of the smaller hotels. For instance, the delightful Island Inn, which is just across the street from the Holiday Inn, advertises double rooms for just $36 during the high season (which lasts until April 15).
The Barbados dollar is pegged to the U.S. dollar and is currently worth about 50 cents.
Sugar cane is the principal crop in Barbados, and until recently was the main source of income. Even now, although tourism brings in more dollars, "sugar impacts on the community more because it percolates down to the workers," said Hugh Sealy, assistant manager of the Investment Division of the Barbodos Industrial Development Corporation. "The large investors in hotels can take their money out of the country. Therefore, except for the hotel workers, taxis, and restaurants, the money does not circulate among the people that much. That is why tourism does not benefit the country as much as sugar," Sealy explained.
Although Barbados has one of the highest literacy rates in the world -- over 98 percent -- unemployment is high, and the annual per-capita income is only $500 U.S. The average wage is $20 to $30 U.S. per week, according to Sealy.
"We have an unemployment situation (15 percent) and we need to develop skills," Sealy said.
The Barbados Industrial Development Corporation is seeking to stimulate industrial development by attracting "approved" industry to the island with fiscal incentives and subsidized factory space. "Obviously, in approving industries, labor is a strong factor, import substitution is a strong factor, and foreign exchange is a strong factor," Sealy said.
Between the years 1969-1977 some 50 foreign firms moved to the island. Of these, about 35 were American, including electroics, textile and data processing industries.
"North Americans tend to prefer Barbados," Sealy said, "because of the good road system, the good infrastructure, the excellent educational system, and our political stability. And, Barbados has cheap labor. We have no minimum wage."
Because "Bajans" are English speaking and highly literate, they tend to be easily trainable.
All CARICOM countries (which form a Caribbean trade union) give incentives to foreign investment, so Barbados must compete to attract industry.
"Jamaica and Guyana are undergoing political and social transformations," Sealy said, "so that investors who tend to the democratic system find Barbados their haven. The tendency is to move from those territories to Barbados."