For two consecutive quarters the report on the performance of the Barbados economy has been encouraging. On Tuesday, the Governor of the Central Bank released the report with the performance for the first quarter of 2015 and by all account the news is good. This DLP administration, led by our Prime Minister Freundel Stuart, has delivered on their promise to return the Barbados economy to growth in 2015. We are not yet reaching the growth levels with which we can be satisfied, but the performance thus far is sufficient to give us hope that we will get there.
The economic growth can be attributed to a strong performance in the tourism sector which benefited from a strong winter tourist season. This year we recorded our best tourism arrival figures since 2008. No doubt as a result of the marketing efforts employed by the team at the Barbados Tourism Marketing Inc. as well as the high level negotiations with major players in the industry done by our Minister of Tourism, The Hon. Richard Sealy and Parliamentary Secretary, Senator Irene Sandiford-Garner. During the period January to March arrivals from the USA, Canada and the UK increased by 24%, 28% and 8.5% respectively; we welcomed more 18000 additional visitors from these countries when compared to the same period in 2014.
Not only did we receive more visitors we also recorded a higher tourism spend with visitor expenditure increasing by 6 percent. Increases in the seating capacity were key to the tremendous performance in the tourism sector. Smaller markets such as Brazil, Germany and Caricom also recorded significant increases.
This administration has listened to and has gone beyond our means to assist the tourism sector to turn around. The performance in the sector benefitted from the addition of some 160 new rooms to the hotel room stock. This is an encouraging turn around when we examine the performance of the past where Barbados suffered from a dwindling room stock as well as tired rooms in need of upgrading. Now we can clearly see why we needed to attract new hotel brands to Barbados and the benefit of the tourism concessions which were offered.
Government’s revenue enhancing measures also contributed to the economic performance and the reduction in the fiscal deficit to the target of 7.2% of GDP. When compared to the previous financial year revenue collection increased by 170.9 million with total revenue reaching 2.5 billion dollars. There was also a significant reduction in expenditure by some 179.1 million. As a result of the financial discipline and good governance of the Government we were able to achieve our desired outcomes. Expenditure on wages and salaries declined by 70 million dollars, while transfers and subsidies declined by $177 million. For the first time since 2007/08 we were able to record a primary balance of $36.8 million dollars.
This DLP administration has been consistent and disciplined in our approach to the economic affairs of this country. The results are there to show that our home grown economic policy is working. The foreign reserves have stabilized and began to grow again reaching 16 weeks of import cover. The news is good for the Barbados economy. As the governor indicated in his report, we need to stay focused and work on improving our level of productivity. Working together as team Barbados towards a common goal of sustainable economic growth and development should be the number one priority of all Barbadians.
This administration has shown that we stand ready and able to make the tough decisions to restructure the economy of Barbados. We have acted in the interest of the people of Barbados with one consistent message on what was necessary to restructure the economy. We have stuck to the measures implemented in our August 2013 budget and these measures have stabilized the economy and returned it to growth. We continue to press on with our focused and disciplined approach to managing the affairs of this country in the best interest of all Barbadians.
This week a vital amendment to the Electric Light and Power act was passed which will help to further build out the renewable energy sector in Barbados. Yet another pillar in the sustainable, economic growth and development policies being crafted by this DLP administration.
We are appreciative of the positive signs and the good news that things are turning around. However, there is still work to be done and so we will press on to ensure that it is done.