TOURISM MATTERS: Simple solutions can work well
Back in the 1970s, after working in Canada, I returned to Britain and took two temporary non-travel-related jobs to establish enhanced credibility for the purpose of obtaining a house mortgage.
Both were important learning experiences which I have never regretted.
The first was working as a salesman in a branch of a high-end consumer electronics retailer, selling audio equipment products made by manufacturers that included Bang & Olufsen and Roberts.
The manager instilled a valuable lesson that has stayed with me for life. His view was that if you were ever going to effectively sell anything, whatever it was, you had better know everything possible about it.
I think he sensed a genuine interest and allowed me to take what at the time were very expensive pieces of equipment home at night and weekends to familiarize myself with their features.
Months when later I formed a tour-operator company, this acquired wisdom formed an integral part of the business masterplan.
Irrespective of the product or service, intimate knowledge of every aspect is critical if you are going to fully understand your marketplace and prospective customer.
Surprisingly then, even after owning and operating a hotel for nearly 24 years, I can count on two hands with fingers to spare the number of senior Barbados Tourism Authority officials, both locally and overseas, Ministers of Tourism, Permanent Secretaries and other leading figures within the public sector that have visited our property.
Some may say well, they don’t have the time. But in reality that means visiting just one hotel every 11 days in a parliamentary term to cover all 160-plus registered accommodation providers.
Any medium- to long-term planning and policymaking would surely have to take in the destination’s strengths and weaknessess, at every level.
In fact, without this knowledge it is difficult to imagine how exactly the stated mandate as “the primary tourism-marketing agency for Barbados” could be effectively carried out.
What makes it even more difficult to comprehend is that we are among a limited number of hotels that have consistently won awards, have one of the highest repeat clientele ratios, a 95 per cent guest-satisfaction level, pay all our taxes and have never been forced to claim any Government financial assistance.
Some properties may not be doing so well, so isn’t it in the national interest to try and take those to a higher level by sharing a business formula that appears to work?
It would be remiss of me not to mention two former Ministers of Tourism, the late Peter Morgan and Sir Harold St John, who were both frequent visitors to our small hotel. Despite their political divide, they shared a passion for tourism and had that seemingly rare talent of listening, even to us little people.
In subsequent years, it’s almost as if the key decision makers have tried to make tourism more complicated and moved away from the simple things that actually make it work very well.
Could it possibly be as simple as that, “we” talk more than “we” listen?