The lessons of Barbados, Max Ward and Wardair

In the 1980s Wardair could fill a 747 from Winnipeg to Barbados. Why can’t we do that now?

by Adrian Loveridge, small hotel owner

In a recent newspaper article entitled ‘Tourism Hope from Canada’ written by Gercine Carter, the outgoing Canadian High Commissioner for Barbados, Ruth Archibald, commented that she thought  ‘there is lots of opportunity for continued growth’ out of that market.

Many of us would agree with her, especially when she ‘suggested that there was even more room for expansion in Western Canada’.

“In light of the potential, why is the Barbados Tourism Authority getting rid of its single BTA marketing executive in Western Canada?”

I immediately thought of my early travel industry years, almost four decades ago in Winnipeg, having been there partially during the pioneering days of Wardair.

In 1984 William Canning directed what I consider a truly inspirational documentary for the National Film Board of Canada, called simply ‘Max Ward’. You can view that film here. Part of it was shot in Barbados and if you get the opportunity to view the programme, please note particularly the Merrymen, Plantation dancers and an interview with the late Sir Harold St. John.

What it graphically brought back, was all that time ago, is that we had truly visionary leaders in this industry and how the decisions that they bravely took, changed our lives forever. Max, along with a rare breed of innovative aviation entrepreneurs like Sir Freddy Laker, fought long and hard for airline deregulation and when it finally came about, nothing would be quite the same in tourism ever again.

All these years later, one wonders if ‘we’ have not lost some of the goals or objectives that took us to, what has now become Barbados’s single largest foreign currency earner.

If even back then, Wardair was capable of filling a 456 seat B747 aircraft direct from Winnipeg, Edmonton or Calgary, to Barbados, so why can’t we now?

In fact, if anything it has become a lot easier, because today we have state-of-the-art, smaller capacity extended range planes with one third of the jumbo’s capacity, so the potential financial risk is a lot less. Direct flights from the Canadian prairies are also attractive in several other ways. Longer winters and the wealth created from tar sands, potash and the agricultural industries providing people with the time and financial means to travel.

Canadian farmers have money, and they are cold and bored in January!

The department of Natural Resources stated that  ‘In 2011, potash was again Canada’s top ranking commodity by volume of production with shipments totalling CAD$8 billion’ and ‘volumes reached a new historical record, up 13.5 per cent compared to 2010’. Grain prices are hitting record highs as crop failures ripple around the globe and are likely to remain strong for at least three more years. The massive drought in the United States, compounded by a shortage of rain that has damaged wheat crops in Russia, Ukraine and Kazkhstan.

‘Canadian farmers, stand to benefit enormously as grain supplies teeter on the verge of disaster’ according to the Globe and Mail.

Oil industry workers in Fort McMurray: Average household income – $169,000 Canadian dollars!

And thirdly, it’s easy to forget that Canada has the third largest oil reserves in the world and 97 per cent of these reserves are in the oil sands. Fort McMurray, considered the centre of this industry, now boasts an average annual household income of over CAD$169,000.

So its not surprising that Ms. Archibald has highlighted the potential of this part of Canada. More than anything, it gives us the possibility to extend our peak and most profitable season by appealing to sectors of the economy that have been largely untouched by a global recession.

Bearing all these factors in mind, it is therefore somewhat bewildering that the contract for the single BTA marketing executive in western Canada is not being renewed. I think we should be told why.


Filed under Aviation, Barbados, Barbados Tourism

11 responses to “The lessons of Barbados, Max Ward and Wardair

  1. FearPlay

    Not only Wardair but Air Canada flew numerous DC Stretch 8’s per week out of Canada. There was a time when the Canadian dollar dropped in value compared to the US dollar and was used as the excuse but no longer. Another excuse has to be found for our poor performance in this market. .

  2. the good old days

    I remember the days of Wardair well, not only full flight from Winnipeg, we had Vancouver, Edmonton, Calgary, Halifax..and the Traditional Toronto and Montreal and they were large wide body aircraft not the small ones like we seen now.. and they were full! Travel patterns have changed and some travellers like the CUba and DR all inclusive experiences for little money per day, But there are still a lot of people out there who want to visit our shores.
    What are we doing to attract them…

  3. NYC/BGI

    Ask Stephen Fields in BGI since he reped Wardair. its a simple task when you have someone who know what to do and how to do it.

  4. 2

    Its difficult to have the right thing happen when those in charge (read Government) have their heads stuck right up their fecal hat and consider good governance as an afterthought at best…..

  5. Check-it-out

    Barbados/BTA are largely invisible in the Toronto media.

    Last week I did not see one mention of Barbados or the BTA flying fish logo in the Star or Globe. And, with very few exceptions, that is the way it has been for the past several months.

    But, I did see St. Lucia tourism had separate full-page and a half-page ads promoting about 12 venues on that island, and heard a St, Lucia radio ad (first time I have heard that) last week.

    Last Saturday Air Canada Vacations’s full page ad featured three Sandals Resorts in Jamaica, as well as Mexico, Cuba and D.R. resorts.

    Beaches/Sandals had its own a 3/4 page ad.

    WestJet Vacations had a full page ad in the Globe, featuring Puerto Rico, Aruba and Antigua – and of course a Beaches/Sandals banner. In the Star Westjet had a 1/3 page ad featuring Las Vegas, Montego Bat and Antigua.
    Bermuda had 1/2 page ads in both the Star and the Globe.

  6. Change? What Change?

    Yes, I too remember the wonderful days of Wardair. Champagne, filet mignon and if memory serves me correctly $200 CAD return on a fabulous 747 where ANY passenger could have a seat on the top deck — a “no class” “First Class” airline.

    We are supposed to have “progressed” in some 35 odd years but we have gone backwards.

    Even West Jet which offers somewhat reasonable faresm at times has towed the line with making passengers pay for food on board.

    What is this world coming to?????

  7. Watcher

    There are simply too many other locations to make choices from that have bigger value for the buck than Barbados does. Back in the 80’s Barbados was a different value destination than it is today. It truly was “Beautiful Barbados”. Today it is an island with a tired plant, site lines blocked by buildings, overpriced accomodation and traffic jams that are chaos.

    Ward Air is gone, the airline that bought them is gone, and flights from Winipeg to Barbados require an overnight stay in Toronto coming and going. There are better places to hunt for tourists than Western Canada.

  8. Paul

    Flights from W Canada to Bdos are generally quite prohibitive compared to competing destinations. Exceptions are when WestJet offers some great promotions and then Air Canada is forced to follow. And when you get to Bdos things like eating out, etc. are also quite expensive relative to competing destinations. Finally Bdos, while still beautiful, is grubbier than it used to be and not as welcoming. Add it up and there’s not much surprise about why tourism from W Canada is down.

  9. what will they think of next

    In the 1980s Wardair could fill a 747 from Winnipeg to Barbados. Why can’t we do that now? I am sure you are going to tell us why.

  10. yatiniteasy

    Should we(BTA) not engage Air Canada in discussions abut their Low Cost division they plan to launch in about 6 months?See following report from Bloomberg.

    By Frederic Tomesco – Oct 2, 2012 4:48 PM AT
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    Air Canada (AC/A) rallied amid plans to start flights on its low-cost carrier in June, with routes to holiday destinations in Europe and the Caribbean.
    The new unit of Canada’s largest airline will begin operations with four planes and may expand to as many as 50, the Montreal-based company said today in a statement. The segment will be combined with the company’s tour-operator, Air Canada Vacations, to form a new “integrated leisure group.”
    The move into low-cost travel follows a July decision by a government arbitrator that allowed implementation of cost-saving steps in new employees’ pension plans and the startup of the new unit. Air Canada had the highest cost to fly one seat a mile among North American airlines for the past three years, according to data compiled by Bloomberg Industries.

  11. repeat visitor

    i think that Barbados missed out on an entire generation of Canadians who are now looking for places to go, the ones that have grown up since the 1980s, and look now to low cost places. they also want to go where their friends have gone. honestly i know few people gone to barbados apart from myself. marketing-wise barbados doesn’t seem to have a clue on how to promote itself in the canadian media…i wouldn’t point the finger necessarily at bajans or barbados but at the BTA and some general collective political denial about problems.