Spending more, to harvest less?
If I had to make a shortlist for our tourism policymakers, in an attempt to influence positive change, it might end up as quite a long list, but two pleas would be right at the top.
Number one is to avoid making heady predictions, when even at the outset, any informed opinion indicated there was very little, if any possibility they would become true.
Secondly, please do not use the word success when referring to a promotion or initiative, before there is at least clear evidence that it is, or will become one.
The second booking deadline of the Barbados Island Inclusive (BII) programme has just passed, since it was originally launched on April 29.
Just to refresh your memory, $11 million was allocated for BII to “bring an additional 15 000 tourists to our shores, with a total spend of $30million by issuing “free spending vouchers”.
The critical word is “additional”.
In July it was “revealed that more than 5 000 tourists had taken advantage” of the offer.
However, since the BII became effective in early May, we have experienced a fall in long stay visitors during every month so far this year.
May was down 29 people, June down 2 965, July down 3 318 (the lowest arrivals for that month in 11 years) and August down 2 591.
So a collective decline for the four months of 8 903 people.
Therefore to boast “5 000 tourists” have used the voucher may be true, but that does not in any way reflect an accurate and fair picture of the current state of the industry.
One of our most senior tourism policymakers was quoted in the media on March 12 as stating “we are putting some programmes in place that we should end the year flat”, even though the numbers were already down by over 10 000 long stay visitor arrivals at that stage, when compared with 2012.
Well, here we are in the latter part of September and that number has climbed to over 26 000.
I cannot recall, at least in my 25 years actively involved in tourism on Barbados, that we have ever endured 17 consecutive months of visitor decline under any Government.
And the very thought of ending the year “flat”, either reflects a massive disconnect with reality, or a severe attack of wishful thinking, which only may end in tears for some, but potential insolvency for others.
I also think “we” need to look very carefully behind the economics of the Barbados Island Inclusive promotion. If all $11 million is spent and that 5 000 jumps to 15 000 “additional” visitors who spend $30 million, that is an average per person subsidy of $733, when you bear in mind this is across all included durations of stay and that subsidy figure has to take into account some visitors would have stayed as few as two nights.
There also appears that there is no effective way to confirm these are “additional” visitors, as clearly various social media sites indicate the vouchers are being redeemed by many regulars.
I am not saying for a minute that repeat visitors should not be rewarded, but in this case, is the result achieved only diluting current earned revenue?
Simply put, could “we” be spending more, to harvest less?