Rethink marketing plan for US
Last month the Canadian Tourism Commission (CTC), the state corporation that acts as a national tourism marketing board for that country, announced that it was going to stop advertising in the United States.
I am sure it took many by surprise.
The Ottawa Sun seemed to capture the spirit behind the decision with a bold headline screaming “Ottawa no longer wants to waste time and money trying to lure American tourists to the land of moose, mountains and Mounties”.
At first, this decision appears to defy any logic: An immediate neighbour with nine times your own population; a staggering 316 million potential visitors on your doorstep.
Among the reasons were that the typical American visitor spent, on average, only US$518 per trip to Canada last year, the lowest amount spent by any international visitor group. By contrast, tourists from Brazil spent an average of US$1 874 per trip.
Paul Nursey, CTC vice-president of strategy and corporate communications, said: “Dollar for dollar, advertising in overseas markets was proven to generate a higher return on investment than the United States.”
Since 2000, the share of tourism industry revenue from outside Canada has dropped from 35 per cent of the industry total to just below 19 per cent and the decline is largely attributed to diminished travel from the United States market.
It got me thinking whether there were any parallels with Barbados.
In the five-year inclusive period 2003 to 2007, we welcomed 654 282 American long stay visitors.
From 2008 to 2012 that number had marginally grown to 662 246 or just 7 965 additional people. To put that in perspective, it represents around 30 more visitors per week.
So far, this year (January-April), American visitor arrivals have fallen by 5 703 and if the current trend continues, when the May figures are released, further disappointing numbers could eliminate any minimal gain at all over the last five years.
Traditionally, the United States has always received the lion’s share of the annual Barbados Tourism Authority (BTA) budget, and frankly I have always found this difficult to understand.
Especially when you consider that Britain produces higher visitor numbers and the average Brit stays far longer, therefore contributing more in just about every way.
Plus the BTA budget has to meet the cost of two offices (New York and Miami) in the United States, against the lone London location.
Should we be asking the same question as Canada’s national tourism marketing agency and directing precious promotional funds into the areas that have the highest return?
We have had every opportunity to increase United States arrivals with the addition of over 1 000 seats a week alone with lost-cost carrier JetBlue since October 2009.
Sadly, other new routes that have been introduced like Atlanta, Dallas, Philadelphia and Charlotte have not generated sufficient traffic to keep them flying, either at all, or more than a limited seasonal service.
So am I advocating that we follow Canada’s example?
Absolutely not! But it seems to make no sense whatsoever, to continue ploughing tens of millions of dollars, plus a disproportionate allocation of human and other resources, into a market that is not producing any significant and sustained growth.