The history of tourism in Barbados is in fact the history of heritage tourism. A hundred years before the birth of the bikini and the Caribbean’s emergence as a top destination for Sun, Sand and Sea and the other Ss in the 1950s, Barbados was promoted as a place with interesting history and historic sites. The top six sites in all the early guides were Codrington College, St. Nicholas Abbey, Farley Hill, Sam Lord’s Castle, the Chase vault at Christ Church Parish Church, and St. John’s Parish Church.
On June 25th, 2011, Barbados was presented with the greatest gift of modern times: UNESCO announced the inscription of Historic Bridgetown and its Garrison as a World Heritage property. There can be no greater gift for a country dependant on tourism. World Heritage inscription means that the site is of outstanding universal value; and should form part of the common heritage of mankind. And it hugely embellishes the “brand” of every country, city or site so recognised as having global importance, and often leads to a dramatic increase in visitors.
In fact World Heritage status not only raises local pride and preservation but provides major local, regional and national increased tourism, and increases jobs and economic benefits significantly at almost every site.
The inscription of Historic Bridgetown and its Garrison also creates a critical mass of World Heritage sites in the Eastern Caribbean, which has enormous potential for regional (Caribbean) tourism marketing. Previously inscribed World Heritage properties are Brimstone Hill in St. Kitts, Morne Trois Pitons National Park in Dominica, and the Pitons in St. Lucia. Thus our two historic sites and two natural sites provide an attractive Caribbean UNESCO itinerary which has yet to be exploited by the Caribbean Tourism Organisation, our Hotel and Tourism Association, the cruise liners or individual tourism agencies. Furthermore, other neighbours are looking at nominations – Grenada (the old French capital of St. Georges), Antigua (Nelson’s Dockyard) and St. Lucia (Pigeon Island), while fortifications such as the restored Cabrits in Portsmouth , the first capital of Dominica, and Fort Charlotte in St. Vincent also provide major unproclaimed attractions to both the history buff and those who enjoy beauty, drama and history – which means most modern tourists!
There are many valuable spin-offs to the development of heritage sites, both in terms of culture and the economy. Pride of place, pride in our culture and knowledge of our history – the good and the bad – create a vibrant, productive society. While we are all in the Caribbean mainly dependant on tourism, the spin-offs benefit us as well, in terms of our own enjoyment of our landscape and built heritage. An attractive city scape or other historic complex provides highly sought after venues for entertainment of every kind. Every kind of cultural component is catalysed…from traditional entertainment, dance, music, drama and story-telling, to traditional cuisine, and development of fine arts – painting, sculpture, ceramics and all…the work of ancestors becomes known and inspires the creativity of the whole society.
Only a few entrepreneurs have capitalised on our history in terms of locally geared or tourist oriented attractions and services. The Jolly Roger is an outstanding example, but why not exploit the colourful story of our gentleman pirate, Stede Bonnet, compatriot of Blackbeard, and hung in Charleston 300 years ago? The Waterfront Café, in a converted warehouse, on the water, is another bold and sustained, successful adaptive reuse of a historic building – but why so few others? And our rich explosion of fine arts, almost kept a secret, enjoys little promotion by our authorities and there is no National Art Gallery.
It therefore goes without saying – (but I must say it!) that opportunities are staring us in the face. First, we must restore the derelict buildings in Historic Bridgetown, to match the best of the Garrison, and to match our magnificent Houses of Parliament; both to enjoy them ourselves and to REALLY impress our visitors. The Preservation (Barbados) Task Force and the Preservation (Barbados) Foundation Trust have been mandated to lead in raising funds for an ambitious National Restoration Programme (Office Telephone 622-1726). The number 1 priority is restoration of the Carnegie Library, built 110 years ago. But the PEOPLE of Barbados – and that means everyone, especially the private sector, the banks and business people, individuals and groups – must engage in this exciting opportunity for rebranding Barbados as “The World Heritage Paradise with everything”.