You won't be in Barbados for long before a few telling statistics are brought to your attention. From cab drivers to hotel representatives, Barbadian boosters are quick to tell you of this breezy, sun-baked island's impressive 97 percent literacy rate, and beyond that, that the United Nations in 1994 named Barbados as the number-one developing nation in the world (a ranking judged by gross national product, life expectancy, and school enrollment). And whether you ask or not, you also will soon hear that stylish Brits enjoy the island so much that they fill up two scheduled Concorde flights from London each week during the winter.

Seven meeting executives on a recent Showcase site inspection program visited Barbados to learn more about its successes and to consider the island as a destination for their meetings, conventions, and incentives. The fast-paced, three-day trip, sponsored by the Adams/Laux Publishing Company and the Barbados Tourism Investment Corporation (BTIC), with assistance from the Barbados Tourism Authority (BTA), introduced the executives to seven hotels and resorts, two convention facilities, and a number of off-site venues.

One of the highlights of the trip was a meeting at the Sherbourne Conference Centre. There, Showcase attendees met Barbados' tourism leaders, including Jerome Ishmael, CHE, general manager of BTIC; Tom Hill, vice president of sales and marketing for the BTA; Faye Wharton, manager at Sherbourne; and about a dozen of the island's suppliers.

The Sherbourne was a superb setting for the meeting, one with a strong story to tell about Barbados's commitment to the meeting and conventions industry. When the center opened in May 1994, its first group was substantial, prestigious, and focused on a topic relevant to the center itself. The United Nations Global Conference on Sustainable Development of Small Island States drew 2,200 delegates to the Sherbourne, the first opportunity to showcase the hospitality and security that the center and the island could provide. What's more, it was the U.N.'s first-ever international conference in the Caribbean.

The conference center (similar to what would be called a convention center in the U.S.) is about two miles from Bridgetown. It sits next door to the residence of Prime Minister Owen Arthur in the lush suburbs that surround the city and not far from the hotels and resorts that line the island's west and south coasts. The largest of the center's meeting rooms is the 10,472-square-foot Main Hall, which seats 1,000 persons theater-style and boasts an airy, sunlit foyer just outside its doors. The center's other key space is the Frangipani Room, a 7,584-square-foot venue adjacent to two 1,444-square-foot meeting rooms.

The next feather in the Sherbourne's cap is this month's meeting of the Caribbean Tourism Conference. This event will bring together North American and European travel agents with Caribbean hoteliers and other tourism suppliers. This group, with its 1,000 to 1,200 attendees, is sure to use many of the center's specialized features, such as its simultaneous interpretation facilities, which can handle translation of up to six languages at one time, offering both permanent and portable booths and more than 1,000 wireless headsets. The center also features uplink facilities; a computerized public address system; 24-hour security, banking, and postal services; and two fully equipped restaurants that can handle large banquets. The center is managed by the BTIC, which also operates Bartic Tours, a destination management company, and Dover Convention Centre, on the island's south coast.

Rooms with a View Showcase attendees spent two nights at Marriott's Sam Lord's Castle on the island's east coast, hosted by the amiable director of sales, Alvin Jemmott, CMP. The low-rise, 72-acre resort, they learned, is named for its centerpiece, an 1820 mansion, which can be used for special functions, as can its gardens, beaches, and pools. Marriott, which plans a major refurbishment this fall of all 234 guest rooms, offers a conference center, accommodating banquets of up to 380 persons.

On their third and last night in Barbados, the Showcase attendees moved to the Grand Barbados Beach Resort for a taste of the island's tranquil west coast. Set on Bridge-town's beach-lined Carlisle Bay, this 133-room hotel does a brisk business in small meetings of up to 75 people. The group toured several additional properties, all on the west side of the island. Just down the beach from Grand Barbados, the Barbados Hilton sits on the 14-acre tip of Needham's Point. The Hilton is well acquainted with the group market, with facilities for up to 355 persons indoors and more outside. The property will begin an expansion in 1997 to bring its room count from 184 to 300.

On the coast north of Bridgetown, attendees viewed the facilities at the 288-room Almond Beach Village. In addition to a well-appointed meeting room for up to 200 persons theater-style, the all-inclusive resort has five tennis courts, a nine-hole golf course, and nine pools.

The Showcase group also made a stop at Sandy Lane for a champagne reception on its final night, giving them a glimpse of the exclusive resort's recently upgraded guest rooms and a peek (from the outside) at the suite where Luciano Pavarotti stays when he's on the island. Also appropriate for high-end incentives, Pemberton Princess Hotels showed off its beachfront retreat, comprised of sister resorts Glitter Bay and Royal Pavilion. Now managed by Princess Hotels International, these two gems are among the properties that are affiliated with the island's celebrated Royal Westmoreland golf course. Opened in late 1994, the Robert Trent Jones-designed course was first played by Prince Andrew, Duke of York.

Attendees had a little time to relax, during which they took a trip to the exotic Flower Forest and spent an evening aboard the Bajan Queen, among Barbados's fleet of excursion boats that also includes 50-plus foot catamarans like Irish Mist and dinner cruise ships like the new 100-foot MV Harbour Master. The final night dinner was held at La Maison, one of only six restaurants to earn top honors from Aalbregt & Van Beukering, publishers of The Best Hotels and Restaurants in the Caribbean 95/96.

Getting There In late 1979, Barbados's Grantley Adams International Airport opened its modern open-air Terminal One building. With a busy career behind it, the facility shows few signs of age, but the airport is ready to build again.

Construction begins in March 1997 on a new arrivals building that will add four or five wide-body gates to the airport's current 16-gate configuration. While a walk across a breezy tarmac and up a set of roll-up stairs is standard boarding procedure at most Caribbean airports, a few of Grantley's new gates will be closed in, allowing easier passage in bad weather and for passengers with disabilities. The new terminal is scheduled to be complete by early 1999, at which time Terminal One will become departures only.

From the USA, two airlines, American and BWIA, offer daily direct service from three cities: New York, Miami, and San Juan, PR. In addition, there is daily direct service from Canada and Great Britain (including service on the Concorde twice weekly from the latter). According to Tom Hill, vice president of sales and marketing for the Barbados Tourism Authority, increasing the airline gateways to the island is a concern of the tourism community. The task is being approached "selectively," he says with the hopes of improving service for passengers coming from the Midwest and California markets, in particular.

For More Information Barbados Tourism Authority/United States 800 Second Ave., New York, NY 10017 (212) 986-6516, (800) 221-9831 Fax: (212) 573-9850

Barbados Tourism Authority/Canada 5160 Yonge St., Ste. 1800 North York, Ontario M2N 6L9 (416) 512-6569, (800) 268-9122 Fax: (416) 512-6581

Barbados Tourism Authority/Barbados P.O. Box 242, Harbour Road Bridgetown, Barbados, W.I. (246) 427-2623; Fax: (246) 426-4080

Barbados Tourism Investment Corporation Dover, Christ Church, Barbados, W.I. (246) 428-5980; Fax: (246) 428-9271

* Expenses incurred by U.S. firms holding meetings in Barbados are tax de-ductible to the degree that they would be if the meeting was held in the USA.

* July 1, Barbados got its own area code: 246.

* Of the 65 luxury coaches on the island, 52 have air-conditioning.

* Driving is on the left, British-style.

* U.S. and Canadian citizens arriving in Barbados from their home countries don't need a passport if they have a picture ID and a return ticket.

* Barbadian water, naturally filtered through the island's porous coral bedrock, is safe to drink out of the tap.

* Barbados is 14 miles wide and 21 miles long, and the most easterly island in the Caribbean.