ON THE RIGHT: Changes in visitor behaviours
While traditionally we tend to focus on the number of visitors to the countries, there is clearly the need to go beyond that.
There was a time when there was a positive correlation between visitors and performance, economic performance, which of course is related very much to aggregates like the level of spending of the visitors and so on.
There was a time when there was this positive relationship between the number of visitors and spend, but we have seen some strange occurrences over the years where the two were not necessarily going in the same direction.
This is because, in some cases, especially in cases of depression and so on, visitors found creative ways of coming but not necessarily spending the way that they would have in the past.
You could see the evidence around you sometimes where they wouldn’t necessarily take a taxi but may take a bus instead – things of that sort.
To the extent that this sort of thing happens, the average spending goes down. So it makes the vacation affordable, but it doesn’t necessarily impact on the bottom line in a positive way when you look at the sector.
So these are some of the dynamics we have got to grapple with in this business. But when we talk about impact, we are really looking at a series of aggregates.
The surveys have actually shown that returning residents – if you want to call them that – don’t spend on average much less than other visitors, particularly in the case of Barbados.
There was a time when a lot of the Bajan Yankees (as we call them) would come and spend time with their family and avoid an accommodation bill. But more and more you find a lot of them actually stay in established accommodation and so on.
They also spend a lot of money on entertainment. They have got friends who live here and so on, and they really do a lot of spending that particular area, probably more than the average of a non-national visitor.
The Caribbean Tourism Organisation (CTO) is now moving into the development of databases.
The databases are really of two types.
On the one hand, you have got statistical databases which give you summary data. That information that will be used at the planning level. But to market effectively, we need to have consumer databases and they come at a very high price.
So the CTO is now working on helping its members to create consumer data bases, which will give them the granular sort of information that is necessary to target niches and to do the marketing in a more effective way.
This is the direction in which we are currently headed.
The usefulness of the databases will extend to all levels of business, whether they be small hotels or large hotels because it actually provides market information that can be used by big and small establishments alike.
It exposes the business to a market base. So, for instance, you can make direct contact with prospective customers and so on if you have got a well-kept database.
•Winfield Griffith is the Caribbean Tourism Organisation’s director of research and information technology.