As recently as 1994, when Barbados built a new cruise terminal, arrivals were still around the 250,000 per annum mark, whereas today we are closer to 800,000.
After fifty successful years of continuous operation, Foster & Ince is firmly established as the leading company in the cruise tourism business in Barbados and the Southern Caribbean. Through its main division, Foster & Ince Cruise Services, plus subsidiaries Foster & Ince CruiseWorld and Platinum Port Agency, this distinguished Barbadian company provides services to the majority of cruise ships visiting the island: Shore Excursions, Home Porting, Destination Management, Special Events and Transport. Established in 1966 by Barbadian tourism pioneers Paul Foster and Cecil Ince, the company has been exclusively owned and operated by the Ince family since 1994. Today Foster & Ince continues to advance under the stewardship of current CEO Martin Ince.
Martin Ince: When my father acquired Foster & Ince he made a crucial tactical switch by exiting the travel agency business to focus on cruise tourism. That was a bold move because the industry was still in its fledgling state in the Caribbean. But Dad was determined to succeed, so whenever he heard about any new cruise line starting up he’d jump on a plane and go to meet them. First he’d persuade them to cruise in the Caribbean, then he’d sell the Southern Caribbean, then Barbados and then Foster & Ince. He helped establish Barbados as a cruise destination.
My brother Edward and I purchased Foster & Ince from Dad in 2001 when he retired. Since Ed was already involved in another business, I took on the role of running the company. We realized that we needed to match the new standards demanded by the modern cruise industry, so we put some fresh energy into raising our business to a world-class level. Our services had to be equal to what the passengers were enjoying on board the ships, and that was the very best! It was a huge challenge, but also an exciting opportunity. Fortunately, our entire team of people during these years has been amazing. We started with our own fleet of vehicles in 1991 for transporting the passengers and their baggage, then over the years we invested in our own visitor attractions, as well as ownership of eight catamarans for day cruises. Over the course of time, as any necessity or opportunity arose, we expanded into other connected areas of the tourism industry and gradually evolved into the Foster & Ince Group of Companies that exists today.
Like my father in the early days, I stay as close as possible to key people in the industry. I go to a lot of conferences and spend time building relationships. Nowadays, when our team goes overseas to visit the cruise companies, we actually sit with the planners and create itineraries, which means we help generate business for other islands in the Southern Caribbean, as well as Barbados.
The entire Foster & Ince team has played a significant role in the adoption of Barbados by an increasing number of cruise lines as their home port – a trend that has further boosted our business growth. As recently as 1994, when Barbados built a new cruise terminal, arrivals were still around the 250,000 per annum mark, whereas today we are closer to 800,000.
Each year, Foster & Ince has to accommodate about 480 widebody charter planes coming out of the UK and Germany, which is a bigger volume than Virgin Atlantic. Occasionally we have to checkin two of the world’s largest cruise ships on the same day – including Britannia and Mein Schiff III – which entails 10 full flights arriving from 7 different cities in Europe, all converging on Barbados at the same time, carrying in excess of 4,000 passengers, all needing to be transferred seamlessly from the airport to the seaport, without disrupting everyday life on the island. And keep in mind that while they are arriving, we also have to cater to the equivalent number of passengers who need to depart on the same aircraft.
It’s a huge logistical challenge, so we have developed a similarly huge infrastructure to ensure that passenger satisfaction remains at the highest level. We meet the aircraft on the ramp as it lands and transfer the passengers onto a large fleet of buses for the drive to the port. At the same time, we use our fleet of trucks to carry the luggage to the ship, all done in-bond. At the port we have access to a 46,000 sq. ft. passenger terminal, with 28 check-in desks, operated by our well-trained staff. We clear the passengers through security, process their check-in, give them their cabin key and direct them on board.
Our record day involved the processing of 8,800 passengers. To achieve that incredible target, we work very closely with all the relevant authorities in Barbados – Customs, Immigration, Airport, Seaport, Police and Security Services. I am humbly proud to be able to say that the Barbados model we have created is now promoted to cruise destinations around the world as the way that airport to seaport transfers should be executed. That is a huge endorsement of what Barbados is capable of achieving.
Home porting has been beneficial for Barbados, particularly since more and more cruisers are spending time on the island before and after sailing. We have 14 new ships visiting Barbados this year, but there is still capacity for further growth, especially since we are in a strong position to create and shape our own future.
Our company will continue to be positive and look for new and unique opportunities, locally and regionally. After 50 years I think the future looks bright for both Barbados and Foster & Ince.