Chukka Barbados Country Manager Andrea Franklin posits that the collaborative effort of the Government of Barbados— through Caves of Barbados — and Chukka Caribbean Adventure to transform the local attraction, dubbed the jewel in Barbados's crown, is case study for how public-private partnerships (PPP) should operate and one that other Caribbean authorities should pattern.
In an interview with the Jamaica Observer, following the unveiling of phase five upgrades to the Harrison's Cave Eco-Adventure Park last Monday, Franklin was asked to gauge the response of the Government to the now-completed development from a local perspective.
In response, she noted, "Well, I can't speak for them but they should be very proud and very pleased that this PPP has gone the way it has. I mean, this can be used as an example for governments across the region in terms of how public-private partnerships should work."
She added: "Chukka has come in and they have set a plan in place and we have delivered on everything that we said we were going to do."
Franklin noted that, though, at the outset there were concerns raised by the board of Caves of Barbados about Chukka's ability to deliver on its commitment, despite the Jamaican-headquartered company winning the bid to manage the tourism attraction, those concerns were addressed when Chukka created a plan and met the timelines for each phase of development. Moreover, the country manager pointed out that what Chukka brought to the table was a "perspective" on how to transform the space based on its experience in other Caribbean territories.
Founded in 1983 by Danny Melville, the company manages attractions in its home country of Jamaica as well as Belize, the Dominican Republic and Turks and Caicos Islands. The company also previously managed an attraction in El Salvador.
According to Franklin, Chukka brought "that expertise and being able to identify spaces that people didn't see before. So being able to use that space to develop a zipline and a whole challenge course concept, I don't think that vision was there before".
In addition, she highlighted the transformation of the attraction's retail space and welcome area to include a Discover Barbados studio and Mount Gay Tasting Room and Museum. In this regard, the country manager argued that Chukka Caribbean brought "a new outlook in terms of product development" since the country's tourism ministry, under the Mia Mottley Administration elected in 2018, had begun to review the country's overall tourism product.
Franklin explained further that while the Barbados tourism industry caters mainly to an elderly British clientele, Chukka's transformation of the Harrison's Cave Eco-Adventure Park has helped the country to diversify its product offering and become a more child-friendly, family-oriented destination.
"It has been a refreshing journey and one that I am obviously proud to be a part of and enjoyed thoroughly," she shared.
But Franklin is not alone, having heard her own Minister of Tourism Ian Edghill echo the same sentiments last Monday.
Announcing that as minister he was reviewing the competitiveness of Barbados' portfolio of attractions, the minister added that Chukka has "lived up to its high-quality submission, which offered a strong proposal for investment and development of Barbados' greatest attraction and natural asset into an enviable [ecological] and adventure park".
Moreover, the minister said the transformation and enhancement of the attraction had ushered it into a position comparable to any other in the region and has "strengthened its marquee status for future generations". On this note he credited the success of Harrison's Cave to Chukka's innovation in using the natural surroundings of the cave while capitalising on its appeal to the niche adventure tourism market.
"Chukka's innovative ideas have supported the structure that ensures long-term success and economic viability of Barbados' tourism. The global adventure travel market, I'm told, is worth [US]$263 billion per year. An eco-adventure at Harrison's Cave and new addition will allow Barbados to remain competitive in the adventure tourism niche market within the region," Edghill asserted.
Thanking Chukka Caribbean CEO Marc Melville for the "evolution" of the property and adding value to the Barbados tourism product, the tourism minister challenged the company to continue reinvesting and building out additional capacity of the attraction.
"When you build out additional capacity here in Barbados, it helps us not only to earn some much-needed foreign exchange but also to continue to maintain jobs and to increase the number of jobs we have on the island," he continued.
Edghill noted that at a recent tourism fair he attended in Berlin, Harrison's was much sought-after and discussed.