GUEST COLUMN – Promoting hotels
I READ WITH INTEREST some of the many comments attributed to the long-serving chairman of the Intimate Hotels of Barbados, Dennis Tull, at the organisation’s annual general meeting recently.Frankly, I agree with most of them, but sadly, I have heard most of them before, over prolonged periods of time, and until there is a fundamental change in thinking, I doubt little will change.Regrettably, consecutive Governments have not recognised the contribution made by our more than 120 small hotels. Yes, the Intimate Hotel Group was established under a previous Government and is given substantial annual grant assistance.But in reality, a staggering 29 per cent, or nearly one in three of their members, do not even meet our national legal definition of what a hotel should be.Around 70 of our small hotels do not fall under any national marketing policy at all, and you really only have to ask one simple question. What proportion of the annual budget (around BDS$90 million) allocated to the Barbados Tourism Authority (BTA) is spent on promoting our small hotels? To highlight this almost indifference to the small hotel sector, who is representing them on the current BTA/Ministry of Tourism delegation to China? What are we really saying here? Our policymakers consider China an economically justifiable potential market for the future, enoughto tempt some of the more than one billion Chineseto endure the minimum flight duration of 18 hours. But none of this massive market will stay in our small hotels? Over the last few years we have started to see niche markets develop within the sub-sector that include truly boutique hotels and high-quality guest houses. Collectively these offer tremendous brand and destination opportunities to jointly promote in all our existing and developing markets. I was reminded by a senior advertising agency executive recently that YouTube now gets more daily visits (around 100 million) than people that watchthe combined television networks of the United States.But go on to YouTube, type in Barbados and what do you get? One or two professionally produced videos, but largely just a bunch of well-intentioned, but amateur postings.This is a classic example of how we could better drive demand, higher occupancy levels (especially in the softer eight summer months) and more direct full rate revenue to the country.Some of the BDS$90 million budget could be usedto produce a high-quality, high-definition film to collectively market these small properties on all the social websites as well as through other media like visitbarbados.org and at every travel event.About $50 000 spent on a state-or-the-art video, only needs to fill 250 room nights to be cost effective. Government must also wake up to the realitythat while some of our small hotels do not attract room rates that match our upscale properties, overwhelmingly, a larger financial proportionof the mainly direct bookings remains withinour shores. Higher occupancy, increased value added tax collection and a trickle-down benefit to all the other tourism partners! Get the picture? Mr Tull also repeated for the umpteenth time that his grouping should be represented on the Board of the Barbados Tourism Authority. In my opinion, he is right, but so should the other 70-plus small hotels.