TOURISM MATTERS: Another chance to connect
For three days later this week, one of the most important travel trade events takes place. It is called Connect 2014. It is estimated that around 97 tour operators representing 74 companies from the United Kingdom, United States, Canada, Brazil, Argentina, Continental Europe and the Caribbean will attend.
Courting their crucial business and hoping to positively influence choices, around 125 local hoteliers and ancillary service providers will also be taking part.
Along with a number of other industry interests including the Barbados Food Wine and Rum Festival and Bushy Park, the Barbados Tourism Authority, or perhaps I should now refer to the new name (Barbados Tourism Marketing Inc.) have been kind enough to invite me to make a presentation on our re-DISCOVER initiative.
With so many destinations to choose from, often at substantially lower cost, it is important, in my humble opinion, that we collectively make every possible effort to get across that Barbados can offer value-for-money by providing a greater selection of more affordable options.
For us, the perfect scenario is to persuade the tour operators to place our website address on their client’s final documentation, whether in print or electronically. That way the consumer can plan ahead, budget for their out-of-pocket expenses, which helps maximise the potential for participating restaurants.
Having been a tour operator based in England for 12 years, it is also important to stress just how vital current product knowledge is from a first hand perspective. Even if the last visit was a couple of years ago, things change, businesses open, close, refurbish and upgrade during that hiatus. Tourism is constantly evolving and forums like Connect give a wonderful opportunity to develop differential holiday products in an increasingly competitive world. This is rarely possible from behind the desk of a remote office location. It needs research, negotiation, planning and effective marketing, based on personal experiences if the offering has any hope in success and guaranteeing ultimate customer satisfaction.
One area in which I believe there is a tremendous potential for growth is what the British travel giant Thomson Holidays brands as its Small And Friendly programme. The concept would be a two-week holiday including a rental car and allowing the client to choose two or three different small hotels.
The package could be enhanced with a dine-around card offering both lunch and dinner choices and perhaps a heritage passport that would allow reduce priced entrance to several attractions. September is traditionally one of, if not the quietest month of the year in terms of arrivals. September 2013 recorded the lowest number of long-stay visitors (26 970) during the last 11 consecutive years, with the same month in 2012 a close second.
While all the figures are not yet a matter of public record, nearly every other Caribbean country is recording tourism growth of up to 18.6 per cent for the first six months of 2014.
Barbados currently lies 18th in terms of numbers with no significant improvement at all. I am sure this will be the main focus of the new marketing entity along with addressing stale dated websites and social media presence.