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TOURISM MATTERS: Second-guessing not an option

Adrian Loveridge

TOURISM MATTERS: Second-guessing not an option

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I was recently castigated in a public forum by a senior member of the Barbados Tourism Authority (BTA) over a question I posed concerning the Dallas/Fort Worth/Barbados service being reduced from three to just one flight per week.
The criticism was that I should have sought clarification from the BTA first.
In an ideal world, perhaps this argument has merit, but the BTA employs over 130 people and there is, some may say thankfully, just one of me.
Trying, again, desperately to focus on the message rather than drag individual personalities into the equation, it graphically highlights just how fragmented communication is currently between tourism stakeholders and the national marketing agency.
We in the private sector have to better articulate that there is a cost and a consequence to receiving delayed policy decisions. Second-guessing and speculating cannot be options.
As soon as conclusions are drawn, in which case our guests and, I suspect, others are directly affected, we could literally lose a substantial number of hotel-room nights. Surely it is only logical to disseminate information to all those it may involve.
We would then have adequate opportunity to contact our guests and soften the blow, perhaps even offering one additional night’s lodging on a complimentary basis, rather than the negative financial implications it would bring.
The BTA already has a database and usually distributes a weekly newsletter, so the machinery exists.
The question also has to be asked: why are we not able to fill these flights?
Unlike Atlanta, the decision to operate a non-stop to/from Dallas was taken during the recession. The seating capacity had already been reduced with a change of aircraft from a B757 to the smaller B737.
The latest adjustment deprives us of yet another 300 seats per week.
The Dallas-Fort Worth (DFW) hub is ranked fourth-largest in the world in terms of operations, and eighth in terms of passenger volume.
In 2011 the airport recorded a staggering 58 million passengers, of which 42 per cent joined locally and 58 per cent were connecting from one of the 191 destinations served by the hub.
Last year we lost the only non-stop Delta Airlines once-weekly service from Atlanta, the world’s busiest airport, but it still appears on the national website.
Yet our neighbour St Lucia still manages to attract five flights per week.
With a United States-based advertising agency handling the BTA account, I cannot imagine there can be a misunderstanding of the American market.
Having travelled to the DFW Metroplex area, the 12 counties within the state of Texas, including Dallas, Fort Worth and Arlington, last September and driving 500-plus miles around the metropolis during my week of stay, the demographics appear to exactly match our destination.
Over six million people live within an hour’s drive of the DFW Airport, and it’s difficult to comprehend why we cannot tempt less than half of one per cent of that number to our shores, and that’s even before we take into account the nearly 200 connecting cities.