A new agent loyalty programme and smaller, more-focused fam trips are on the agenda for agents selling Barbados next year.

The island has hosted more than 100 agents on educational trips this year, but plans to move away from mega-fams in favour of small-group trips focused on promoting romance, sports, villas and Mice product for 2018.

Cheryl Carter, UK director of Barbados Tourism Marketing Inc (BTMI), said: “We want to move away from the mass-fam, so we will be running more niche fams – much more bespoke and targeted, to make them more experiential.

“We want to ensure we take agents to Barbados around our major events so it becomes more immersive.

“We’re in the process of redesigning our loyalty programme for travel agents, which we’re hoping to launch in January in time for the peak season.

“We want to make it more than an incentive per booking. You can’t sell a luxury product like Barbados without having the travel trade on side.”

The new trade portal will allow Barbados specialists to develop closer links with partner hotels, and include updated training modules and details of next year’s agent roadshows, which will include more luxury training.

UK visitor numbers to Barbados were up 0.6% for the period of January to September 2017, against an increase from all markets of 6.6% to a total of 488,025, but BTMI chief executive Billy Griffith celebrated the growth in cruise passenger arrivals, which were up 17.3% overall in the same period.

He said: “Home-porting is growing. We’re getting more ships, and the real advantage of home-porting is it gives us an opportunity to increase our hotel capacity as well. Our home porting business has been increasing 25% a year for the past three years, in terms of the number of passengers coming to the island.”

Virgin Atlantic will begin a new twice-weekly service from Heathrow, on Tuesdays and Sundays, running from December until April 2018, while Thomas Cook launches a direct weekly flight from Gatwick.

The island will also see new and refurbished hotel product for the coming season, including the opening of Sandals Royal Barbados – the all-inclusive brand’s second property on the island – set to open in December. The House and Treasure Beach, both run by Elegant Hotels, are being renovated, as is the Fairmont Royal Pavilion.

Travel Weekly coverage of World Travel Market