Tourism Minister says GAIA business strategy to set out Concorde future

More than two and a half years after closing its doors to the public, there is still no definitive word on the future of the world-renowned Concorde Experience, the Christ Church attraction where the unique aircraft brand remains housed.

Minister of Tourism and International Transport Senator Lisa Cummins has, however, given the assurance that the popular museum will be included in a new business strategy for the Grantley Adams International Airport (GAIA) that will target the country’s aviation sector as a whole.

The Concorde Experience, one of three such displays around the world, was officially closed under Cummins’ predecessor Kerrie Symmonds, less than a month after coming to office in 2018.

Opened in 2007, the Experience is home to one of the Supersonic British Airways jets decommissioned in 2003. The G-BOAE Concorde, stationed in a hangar east of the GAIA, is one of just 20 of its kind ever created, and is said to have flown more than 7,000 flights from London to Bridgetown between 1987 and 2003.

In its prime, the high-tech museum provided insight into the history of aviation in general, the Concorde, and even featured a flight simulation.

Today, most travel websites report that the attraction is now closed, and according to Google, it has been “permanently closed”.

Earlier this year, the property was used as a testing facility for COVID-19 but appears once again to be on lockdown, as tall grass and untrimmed trees surround it.

Back in June, outgoing Chairman of the Barbados Hotel and Tourism Industry (BHTA) Stephen Austin said he was “a bit embarrassed” at the state of the museum as he suggested a number of ideas for its revival.

In a recent interview with Barbados TODAY, Symmonds blamed financial neglect, poor maintenance and lack of repairs on the part of the previous administration for the demise of the attraction. He further revealed that an injection of over $1 million would be needed to restore the facility to its former glory.

“Issues relating to the necessary maintenance especially of the air conditioning units and so on which are very specialized pieces of equipment…, the maintenance of the hydraulics of the aircraft and so on were not being paid any attention,” Symmonds told Barbados TODAY.

On the financial side of things, he explained that Goddard Enterprises Ltd. (GEL), which was contracted to manage the attraction opted to close it because the administration at the time was failing to honour its financial obligations.

“As a new minister, we had to ascertain exactly what the history was…but at that particular time, it simply could not be put on the list of top priorities of the Government because we had to deal with the sewage situation on the south coast, we had to deal with trying to preserve some of the public servants’ employment… and there were a number of other things that were first priorities,” Symmonds explained.

Efforts to reach the General Manager of the Goddard Catering Group (GCG) Cary Tulloch were unsuccessful.

An official from GEL with knowledge of the situation, however, told Barbados TODAY: “It needed a lot of money spent on it and we didn’t want to spend the money unless we got the right kind of lease to justify our capital expenditure.”

As recently as January 2020, officials from British Airways visited the island to discuss the future of the historic attraction in addition to new business proposals from Government, for its operations.

When contacted, a spokesperson from BA said: “British Airways regularly visits Concorde exhibits around the world to check on them and to advise the organisations caring for them to ensure they are properly maintained.”

Prior to the visit, Symmonds revealed that some work was done on the hydraulics of the aircraft to ensure that it at least met the minimum requirements.

“I think that they were concerned about it being closed and hearing that no attention was being paid to it, but I assured them that while that has been the case, we were still on top of things and we were working on a commercial plan that we could use as a proper tourist attraction,” the former tourism minister revealed.

“We felt that there were other things that could have been done like a restaurant and an entertainment experience with the Concorde in the background. There was also a period of time when traffic to the United States was high and there were discussions about the possibility of a stand-alone check-in and departure hall so that persons flying on American Airlines and British Airways that are both part of the One World Alliance together would be able to use it together. However, that was just being discussed. It had not been formalised,” he admitted.

Less than two months after his meeting with BA, the dreaded Coronavirus struck, forcing the closure of the Grantley Adams International Airport and a halt to all non-essential business.

Then, on July 22nd, Symmonds was moved to the Ministry of Energy, Small Business and Entrepreneurship and Senator Cummins was named as his replacement.

When asked what it would take to restore the Concorde Experience, Symmonds declared: “Over a million dollars for sure.”

In a subsequent wide-ranging interview about the Covid-19 crisis, Senator Cummins spoke of a master plan for the tourism sector that includes a new aviation strategy. According to the new tourism minister, it focuses on the provision of aircraft maintenance services, flight safety, private aircraft services and increasing cargo handling mechanisms.

When asked specifically about the future of the Concorde Experience, Cummins noted that it would no longer be managed through a third-party agreement, but through the GAIA’s management.

“The Grantley Adams International Airport has not had a business plan for how it is going to treat to its assets since 2007. The business plan was revised in 2011 and for the duration, the Concorde experience has been under the management agreement by a third party,” Cummins noted.

“Now, we are in a position where that management agreement has expired, the Concorde agreement has reverted to the GAIA and the GAIA, as part of our own thrust for aviation has been given a mandate by me to develop a new business strategy which includes all of its assets, that would incorporate how it will treat to the Concorde Experience. And, we expect that we will have that in due course,” she told Barbados TODAY.

“Of course there are ongoing negotiations that are publicly known with regard to the concession agreement for the GAIA as a management agreement, and so those things will impact how we go forward with regard to the Concorde Experience,” she added.

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