EDITORIAL: South American challenge
That tourism is Barbados’ business cannot be denied. It is now a year-round industry which demands a constant flow of visitors.
Little surprise therefore that the Barbados Tourism Marketing Inc. (BTMI) is looking to South America to drive arrivals. For this to become a reality and reap tangible benefits, all the support systems must be in place.
Barbados already has a presence in South America, primarily Brazil. What is not clear is whether that market has performed as expected. Brazil is not enjoying the economic thrust of five years ago and expects 1.4 per cent growth next year. But, Brazilians are still travelling and after Orlando, Florida, it seems as if the Caribbean is their hot spot. We must exploit this interest.
Effective marketing of Barbados in South America will be key to any success in penetrating that market. But the BTMI cannot do it alone, based on budget constraints. Neither can our “soft brands” hotels, also constrained by restrictive marketing budgets and limited recognition.
It will therefore call for a partnership with the recognised brand name hotels and all-inclusive properties which have the ability to undertake such promotional campaigns. Despite some lingering scepticism locally, the worldwide trend is that customers are embracing the all-inclusive brand. It is the land-based version of the exploding cruise tourism package. Fortunately, there is a difference in products and every all-inclusive is not a one-fit-all product.
The real challenge for Barbados’ tourism outreach to South America beyond Brazil will be air transportation. It is a situation which needs priority attention if the country must welcome visitors from places such as Colombia, which has seen a boom in its economy, as well as Chile and Argentina which have good niche markets. That potential visitors must travel to Miami for connecting flights to Barbados is less than ideal.
Panama can be the crucial link in Barbados’ efforts to successfully penetrate the South America market. Its national airline, COPA, can provide the connections needed to make it easier for the South American visitor coming here. COPA already flies to a number of Caribbean countries including Guyana and Trinidad and Tobago. This country must sign the necessary air services agreement with Panama. We have nothing to lose.
Clearly, the thrust into South America cannot be undertaken using the same methods used to attract North Americans and Europeans here. Barbados can be an excellent place for Latin Americans to learn English as a second language, while sporting activities such as polo and motor sport offer real possibilities to lure a market segment.
The outcome of our thrust into South America must not only be to lure more visitor arrivals, but must be designed to increase visitor spend. These, however, will not be achieved without offering the varied services and products that consumers are demanding.