Exciting prospects are on the horizon as Barbados takes center stage in establishing direct airlinks with Saudi Arabia. A significant step towards this goal occurred on November 15, 2023, with the launch of a groundbreaking 12-hour test flight operated by SAUDIA (Saudi Arabian Airlines). Departing from Antigua, the flight made stops in Barbados and Miami to pick up additional Caribbean passengers before embarking on a non-stop journey to Riyadh. Notable passengers included heads of state, tourism ministers, and Caribbean dignitaries attending the first CARICOM meeting in Saudi Arabia, marking a historic moment in Barbados-Saudi relations.
Riyadh Air, a state-owned airline with aspirations of becoming the region’s largest carrier, is poised to become the first Middle East airline to facilitate commercial flights connecting Saudi Arabia and Barbados. Dr. Roosevelt Skerrit, Prime Minister of Dominica and CARICOM Chairperson, shared insights into the successful test flight, hinting at the possibility of upcoming direct commercial flights that could significantly enhance the relationship between Barbados and Saudi Arabia.
The optimism surrounding this initiative was echoed by HE Khalid A. Al-Falih, the Minister of Investment for Saudi Arabia, who emphasized the potential for direct flights to the Caribbean region. Discussions in Riyadh extended beyond tourism, covering topics such as climate change, renewable energy, finance, investments, education, and health.
Barbados stands to benefit from the increased influx of Saudi tourists, known for being among the world’s highest spenders. The prospect of attracting Saudi visitors to Barbados without the need for US or Canadian transit visas could open new avenues for tourism, reducing dependence on the North American market.
As Riyadh Air gears up to launch commercial flights in early 2025, there is a call to make Barbados more accessible for Saudi tourists. Efforts are underway to explore reciprocal border openings between Saudi Arabia and Caribbean nations, fostering a mutually beneficial relationship.
The Caribbean’s unity and collaboration are seen as key to success, with a focus on offering multi-destination packages, as discussed at the IATA Aviation Day in 2022. The need for inter-Caribbean flights and enhanced cooperation between foreign ministries and transportation ministries takes center stage in making Barbados-Saudi connections a reality.
Barbados could emerge as a pivotal player in this diplomatic effort, contributing to Saudi Arabia’s goal of hosting EXPO 2030. The CARICOM meeting’s positive outcome and the endorsement of SAUDIA flying CARICOM delegates back to Barbados signal the beginning of a new era in Barbados-Saudi relations. The island nation stands at the forefront of potential opportunities for travel and tourism, creating a promising future for both regions.
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