TOURISM MATTERS: Keep this destination in their minds
With a little more than two weeks before the start of what may become one of the most defining tourism winter seasons in our recent history, many are left just to guess at what will happen.
Yes, of course you can draw some comparisons with forward direct bookings, but with a heavy dependence on tour operator-driven business for a high proportion of our hotels, it is far more difficult to make any accurate predictions.
Clearly, a number of factors have negatively affected the industry’s performance and to put this in perspective, I think it’s important to study the figures.
For the four years from 2008 to 2011, Barbados averaged 546 533 long-stay visitor arrivals each year.
In the previous four years, 2004 to 2007, the average was 558 632. Simply put, that’s a decline of nearly 50 000 visitors over the comparable periods.
Arguments could of course be made, and have in some quarters, that the average stay has increased, but without directly comparing this over a sustained period, it is almost irrelevant.
And it becomes totally meaningless unless average spend has risen faster than the number of nights our accommodation offerings are occupied.
Certainly the steep reduction in arrivals from our largest market, Britain, would not have helped this equation.
Without this critical information, it’s simply speculation about the overall performance of the industry and that does absolutely nothing to help devise meaningful solutions.
So, perhaps, at least our winter destiny might be in the hands of climatic conditions bad enough to stimulate travel but not disrupt it.
Nor does the possibility of exceptionally cold spells in our source markets give us the divine right to expect increased arrival numbers,
Without any coherent “national” marketing campaign in place that directly converts destination interest into solid bookings at desirable rates, the industry is left to flounder on its own, using any resources that it can individually muster to make a difference.
Of course, an increasing number of tourism partners already practise this policy, preferring at least to try and control their own destiny.
Perhaps this is the direction we should be heading, as” clearly the figures demonstrate no real growth in tourism generated by national marketing efforts over the last five years.
This, despite the significant funds that have been allocated to the agency responsible and the introduction followed by the subsequent loss of new airlift, which will further drive numbers down.
In the hope that climatic conditions will be on our side, everything must be done to raise the destination awareness to keep it “top of mind”. It’s okay to brag about the number of website hits and raising our profile, but if there is no call to action, it’s almost impossible to justify the monies spent.
One of our larger all-inclusive hotels is offering travel agents complimentary three-night stays, with additional nights at just US$45 per person per night until December 15.
We must use our empty beds and airline seats now to influence not just the travel trade, but travel writers, group and incentive planners, sports, wedding and honeymoon organizers and any other niche market that can influence and deliver visitors.
Of course there is a cost element involved, but just like you cannot sell a seat once an aircraft has taken off, the same applies to a vacant room after the night has passed.
• Adrian Loveridge is a hotelier of four decades’ standing.