Barbados’ tourism sector has begun to show signs of growth. In 2014 long stay visitor arrivals increased for the first time in two years by 2.2 percent to 519,638 visitors, compared to the previous year, according to Barbados Tourism Marketing (BTMI).

BTMI chairman Alvin Jemmott, explained that while there was still some way to go to restore all of the market share lost during the past few years, it was encouraging news for the destination.

According to the BTMI, the cruise tourism sector registered a 2 percent decline in arrivals to reach 557,898 arrivals and home porting activity was five percent below the previous year due to a decrease in calls across various lines. However, 395 cruise ships called, an increase of 21 vessels when compared to 2013. There were 1,164 more cruise stay visitors than in the previous year, with the majority choosing to stay 7-10 days.

Building on the successful growth of the previous year, Barbados’ tourism arrivals are projected to increase by five per cent in 2015.

Cruise is also projected to be buoyant with a 5 to 6 percent increase expected to push cruise arrivals over the 750,000 mark by the end of 2015. Home porting is set to increase by 17 per cent this year and 12 new vessels calling the Bridgetown port will contribute an additional 177,551 passengers.

Preliminary figures show January 2015 being the highest on record for the past 15 years with 56,132 arrivals. The U.S. grew by 14 per cent to 10,810, the highest on record since 2001, according to the BTMI. The UK increased by 15 percent or 2,790 more visitors to a total of 21,355 visitors and Canada made a significant jump of 27 percentage points to reach 10,578 visitors.

To ensure that this growth is sustained in 2015, the BTMI said it will be combining a new digital marketing strategy and a deeper reliance on research with a new nimble business structure and several collaborative marketing programs reach their targets.

A new program dubbed, Brilliant Barbados, has been designed “to drive incremental business in the traditionally softer period of the year,” said BTMI CEO, William Griffith.

“The battle for growth and sustainability for visitor arrivals will not be won solely by winter performances. It requires greater effort and more targeted marketing activity in the summer and fall months,” he added.

The booking window for the Brilliant Barbados promotion will open from early March for five weeks and travel will be required between May 9 and December 19, 2015. Thirty participating hotels and a number of local attractions have come on board to offer visitors discounts.

In addition, strong alliances are already being formed with several online travel agencies, tour operators and local industry partners to increase Barbados marketing presence at key gateways.

The BTMI’s CEO also announced the appointment of a new director marketing, Robert Chase. His department will hold responsibility for brand advertising, marketing strategy and the BTMI’s online real estate. Additionally, the BTMI will begin the recruitment process for a manager of digital marketing and social media. It is anticipated that all new hires will be in position by the end of the year.

Griffith explained that the growth in arrivals was due largely to marked economic recovery and growing consumer confidence in the United Kingdom. Barbados’ UK arrivals grew by 11 percent in 2014 to reach 186,858 visitors or 37 percent of Barbados’ total arrivals.

In the United States market, he revealed that visitor arrivals declined by 2 percent in 2014. Thus far, the BTMI has been able to replace 82 per cent of the 55,702 seats lost after the withdrawal of the American Airlines service out of JFK. In addition, December was a record month for the U.S. market, with 14,460 arrivals, the third highest number of December arrivals from the U.S. to date.

The Canadian market, which was predicted to finish at 8 percent below the 2013 performance, was down by two per cent at the end of 2014.

The Caribbean market experienced a 10 percent decline in seats via regional carrier, LIAT; diminished spending power among potential visitors; and high airfares that, Griffith argued “placed regional travel in an uncompetitive position, in some instances, when compared to the cost of international travel.” Overall, the Caricom market registered a decline of 9.9 percent in arrivals.

The European market continued to maintain double-digit growth in 2014. Germany, the Netherlands and Belgium were up 15 percent, 17 percent and 7 percent respectively. Italy was also up 13 percent over 2013. Similarly, arrivals out of Brazil were up by 18 percent.