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Building a Barbados Film Tourist Season

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There is a subset of films that are easy to recognise, but hard to name. Released by the truckload annually, they are usually centred around a lead character travelling to a foreign place for work or holiday.

For instance, Sarah, a high flying advertising executive in the big city. Her motto is “go, go, go,” because she believes that if she slows down, she will not achieve true happiness. That is until her firm sends her to a lake-side resort in the mountains of Colorado to help their team develop an advertising strategy. At first, Sarah tries to bring her “big city urgency” to the mountain, but quickly realises; with the help of the resort’s handsome owner; that true happiness lies in the present and not in a distant future.

Does this sound familiar? We see these types of films virtually everywhere, on Lifetime, Hallmark, Netflix, Hulu and any other streaming platform or network you can name. It is a story that has been told time and time again and audiences never seem to get bored. This is because of the universal themes running through these stories like the theme of hope we all have inside us, to find love and ourselves.

Perfect destination

Just as integral to the story as the universal themes that run through it, is the setting in which the action occurs. The resort or holiday destination can take the form of the beachfront, mountain lake, ski lodge, northern countryside, charming storybook town, desert getaway or tropical forest.

With that in mind, producers and location managers are tasked with finding not only the perfect destination location, but a destination with suitable spaces and structures that lend to the mood and the telling of the story. Therefore, the destination location becomes important to the story’s plot.

On the big screen, we are whisked away to faraway locales in films like Italy in Roman Holiday, Hat Maya, Phi Phi Island in The Beach, Thailand in The Hangover 2 and Hawaii in Forgetting Sarah Marshall. Each production formed a story around the destination, making the location just as interesting as the actors at play. The Forgetting Sarah Marshall film was specifically shot in Turtle Bay Resort in Oahu.

Last year, it was announced that the Netflix original comedy-drama, Emily in Paris was watched by 58 million people in the first 28 days after its launch. The series is shot entirely in Paris with the second season having some scenes shot in St. Tropez. This type of film can easily become a niche for the Barbados film tourism market, becoming a viable and sustainable tourism product.

From late 2020 and in 2021 some production companies carefully crafted story ideas around going or moving to specific locations, therefore capitalising on empty tourist destinations and their hotels. These spots became the best film sets because they were readily accessible and devoid of human traffic. Productions had total control of the spaces where they filmed without the bother of other functions, events or guests/patrons.

Now coming to the end of a two-year pandemic season as hotels and tourist destinations begin to buzz with activity, this does not necessarily harken the end of this trend. For Barbados and other Caribbean islands, this could become the tourism goldmine the tourism sector has been looking for. Most industries in the world experience times of high and low revenue, based on social, political or environmental factors. This is no different in the tourism industry. In fact, the tourism sector is one where the stark separation of the low and high season is evident.

Lack of availability

Typically each year from December to March there is an influx of tourists travelling to Barbados. It remains a busy time production-wise particularly for pre-production and development. The lack of availability due to the number of visitors on the island may sometimes cause problems when seeking accommodation, transportation via rental vehicles, restaurants bookings and location accessibility. Early planning is essential for producers seeking the sunshine and warmth of the Caribbean during the winter months.

After this flurry of activity, businesses that relied heavily on the tourist dollar begin to revamp their marketing strategies. Hotels lower their rates and offer staycations for locals and restaurants begin to advertise special two and three course lunch and dinner offers, all in hopes of making it through the low earning months.

That being said, we can surely make use of our hotels, places of interest and locales during the low season. Why can’t Sarah relocate to Barbados instead of the Colorado mountain resort? Why couldn’t the mystery of The Beach occur on one of our south-east beaches?

If marketed correctly, producers could look at Barbados as a place that can possibly work within their budgets during the spring, summer and fall seasons. There is enough on offer here to create romantic getaway films (beaches, parks, and gardens), relocation films (hotels, office buildings, villages, and towns) and even the suspense/thriller vacation film (old structures, cliff locations, and woods).

Engaging producers

There is also the larger possibility of engaging Producers to look towards Barbados as the setting for their episodic shows much like how Guadeloupe became the fictional island of Saint Marie for the BBC drama Death In Paradise. The show has been running for ten years straight and filmed during the summer. Of course it does help that Guadeloupe also offers a 30 per cent tax rebate on productions being shot on island once they pass all qualifying criteria required to tap into said rebate.

Barbados is not there yet, but we could be well on our way by first allowing international production companies to see the benefits of filming here as it relates to story-worthy locations and increased accessibility in the low season. These international producers and their crews can become the staunch tourists of the low season with the destination film ushering what could be called, the film tourist season.

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Film industry viable for declining tourism

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COVID-19 has ravished countries of the world, leaving small island developing states (SIDS) in a more vulnerable position. Countries that depend on the tourist dollar, like Barbados and other Caribbean islands, experienced one of the hardest years, as travel was brought to a halt between April and July 2020. Even as borders reopened and airlines took to the skies in 2021, general scepticism and stringent travel protocols contributed to a decline in visitors.


In Barbados, where tourism is the top foreign exchange earner, workers within the industry fervently called for aid as lockdowns and curfews made jobs close to non-existent; if not redundant.


With this in mind, it must be noted that the industry experienced signs of growth for its 2021 winter season. This, amidst the newest variant of COVID-19 spreading rapidly across the globe, which resulted in further travel restrictions within the countries SIDS depend on. Nevertheless, as more Caribbean citizens turn to the vaccine in an effort to return to normal and as the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) relaxes their COVID-19 restrictions on time in isolation, we are entering the endemic stage of the virus.


Additionally, another consideration during the height of the pandemic, is that tourists found cheaper alternative ways to holiday without the risk of contracting the virus abroad. These cost savings might make them less reluctant to travel when restrictions are fully lifted.


With the current infrastructure in Barbados, tourism will continue to be the main economic earner for another few years. However, there are two other profitable revenue streams within the industry that Barbados is ideally placed to take advantage of: film tourism.


The first involves the age-old tactic of using films or television shows as a promotional piece to pique holidaymakers’ interest. They watch the movie or show, fall in love with the scenery or the character and develop the urge to visit. Along with books, films and TV shows have been the catalyst to the awareness of foreign places and the urge to travel.


Guaranteed income


The second aspect, the main revenue earner, involves inviting foreign teams to film on the island. In March 2021, the show Outerbanks was filmed in Barbados. The ripple effect was phenomenal as it meant guaranteed income for a hotel, a catering company, select property owners, transportation personnel and cultural practitioners. The truth is, filming on location involves a great deal of preparation and crews arrive in advance to prepare. Given this, some of the local entities would have been employed for at least two – three months prior to filming.


Long-term film tourism produces what could be termed a hybrid tourist – a cross between a short stay visitor and long stay visitor. They are not the typical two week holidaymaker (with or without family) and also travel in groups of 20 to 40.


Barbados is well placed to tap into the opportunity of becoming a popular film destination. If well promoted within a specific demographic, the island could book at least four groups per year. In some instances, it could equate to hotels being fully booked outside of the peak tourist season where occupancy tends to be low.


Moreover, these crews tend to become holidaymakers in their own right as they often seek to experience the attractions and immerse themselves in the culture of the island. Some are joined by their families for a break during the production period if they are on longer shoots or after production ends, for some much needed rest and relaxation.


Over the years, film productions have revitalised towns, cities or countries that were used as the film locations.

In 2017, Screen Australia reported that “Deloitte Access Economics estimated 230 000 tourists visited or extend their stay in Australia each year as a result of viewing Australian film and TV content, generating around $725 million in spending.”


The tourism office in Northern Ireland, where Game Of Thrones was shot for a period of ten years reported that in 2018, “the show played a part in attracting one in every six out-of-state visitors. That accounted for 350 000 visitors and over £50 million for the local economy”.


That same year, the Motion Picture Association of America reported “Marvel’s Black Panther involved more than 3 100 local workers in Georgia who took home more than $26.5 million in wages.”


What does this mean for Barbados, and by large the Caribbean? The opportunities are laid bare. After the hiatus during the pandemic, the creative industry is eager to help Barbados seize this opportunity.

The relevant ministries should meet with representatives of the creative industry and cultural practitioners to devise a feasible plan on how to market Barbados as a double-edged sword:


  1.  An ideal film location.
  2.  Local professional, talented and creative individuals who specialise in film-making.

The hope for the future would be that the relevant ministries take a look at innovative ways to restructure and repurpose the tourism industry of Barbados and carve out film tourism as a profitable niche. It could be the answer to some of its economic woes.


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