Tuesday 27 October, 2020

Local attraction barely keeping its 'nose above water' says owner

One of the owners of the Animal Flower Cave, Manuel Ward

One of the owners of the Animal Flower Cave, Manuel Ward

Tourist-driven attractions across the island are feeling the squeeze from COVID-19.

While locals have been patronising some of the island's attractions, the drop in tourist arrivals is being felt across the industry.

Owner of the Animal Flower Cave, Manual Ward, who took over the management of the picturesque cliff-side attraction from his father in 1980, spoke with Loop News about the novelty of the entire experience.

“We are starting to get a few people coming back unto the island but when you look at the fact that back in the day we would get 22 to 25 flights a week and now we are getting maybe three to four flights a week, it’s a big difference,” he explained.

While he expressed his gratitude for the local support which has kept their doors opened, it is barely keeping his ‘nose above water’.

However, he added: “Luckily, we are a destination that we do get our good little local business, so on a Saturday and on a Sunday, I get 80 or 90 people, which at this time…is really good.”

Initially, when businesses were given permission to reopen, the Cave operated five days a week, from Wednesday to Sunday. However, after three weeks, Ward realised it was unsustainable. Currently, the cave opens solely on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays and the owner expressed that the business generated on weekends in today's climate would equate to a single day in pre-COVID-19.

Animal Flower Cave

With a pre-COVID staff complement of approximately 30 individuals, Ward revealed that he has only been able to reemploy a few and has resorted to scheduling them on alternating workdays.

“At the moment, we have this proposal that we bring on staff and government is going to help us pay them 80 per cent of their salary but the thing is, there is no work to do…I don’t have anything for them to do,” the business owner lamented.

Like most local businesses, the pandemic has forced many to revisit the drawing board, to conceptualise new products and services. It has been no different for the owners of the cave.

The Animal Flower Cave now offers a “Frozen Lime” where frozen packaged meals are available for customers as takeaway.

In addition, potted aloe plants are now available for sale on site.

Sue Ward, Manuel’s wife, was credited with a “Paint and Play” service which accommodates art parties, inclusive of meals, at the scenic location. The newly added experience caters to both adults and children. The novel package has proven mutually beneficial as it facilitates exposure for the hosting artist, in addition to drawing customers to the St Lucy locale.

Being animal lovers themselves, the Wards have also ensured that the Cave is an animal friendly site, providing limited seating on the periphery of the restaurant. This afford pet lovers a unique dining experience under the shade.

A cover charge is another feature that will be implemented in the near future. Owner Manuel Ward explained that the proposed $10 cover charge will be redeemable at the bar, in the cave or in the restaurant. He outlined that the site will also be establishing a hamburger and hot dog stall to add to the range of food items available.

“We are trying to reinvent everything and find ways to make it work,” Ward said.

A recent visit by Minister of Tourism Senator Lisa Cummins, parliamentary representative Peter Phillips and officials from the Barbados Tourism Marketing Inc. (BTMI) on September 4 was lauded by the Cave owner. The tour of the location formed part of the ‘Barbados Uh Come From’ initiative.

“I hope it stays like that and we have this interaction more. I think it is the way we have to go,” Ward said of the recently launched marketing programme which sought to highlight local domestic products and services.

In the interim, the business owner is striving to make it work, anyway, he can.

“I understand that there is no way that our government or our NIS can support 40,000 or 50,000 staff and pay them out. . . it would bankrupt the island and bankrupt the businesses. So, we have to find a way to make it work and until tourism kicks back in we are all going to be seriously ‘biting the bullet’”, the business owner stated.


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