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TOURISM MATTERS: Who’s going to fill the extra seats?


TOURISM MATTERS: Who’s going to fill the extra seats?

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I subscribe to a website called, which – for those of you who are unfamilar with it – is a site that monitors air fares across the world.

When Delta Airlines resumed their flights from Atlanta to Barbados, I placed an alert which, several times daily, automatically scans all available options on that route, whether direct flights or through connecting cities.

Last week a series of alerts advised that for certain days and months, subject to advanced booking, return air fares were available for as low as US$227 with the amalgamated American Airlines and US Airways. Delta flights are of course direct and non-stop twice a week on Thursdays and Saturdays, while flying with the other carriers would involve a change in Charlotte or Miami, obviously resulting in a longer overall travel time.

But look at the fare, and if anyone realistically thinks – for at least part of our target markets – that lower prices do not drive additional business, then think again. I also monitor the very popular TripAdvisor Barbados forum site and could not help but notice that a lady had also spotted the bargain fares and had no hesitation in booking her family of five to Barbados, due to lower cost travel opportunity.

How can we as a tourism-driven country take full advantage of these changes? Especially as they cost us absolutely nothing in terms of marketing dollars? Maybe by following other examples, both in terms of the tourism industry and other sectors, by including a last minute portal on the national website with links. It could even be branded as a distinctive separate product with a catchy name like “spontaneous”.

Clearly there is no profit in empty airline seats or hotel beds, so it’s in everybody’s interest to explore more effective ways of converting all the component parts in vacation experiences to ensure first time visitors are tempted back year after year.

Next week marks the official end of the winter season, so by now many people will be reflecting on just how viable the last four months have been. The numbers appear encouraging, but unless there is an enabling environment by creating something close to a level playing field, no intelligent investor is going to pour further monies into upgrading, refurbishment or enlargement without categorical evidence of the promised concessions becoming a working reality.

With the national tourism marketing body still clearly under severe budget restraints, it would be almost foolhardy for any private sector industry partner to depend on Government for promotional salvation any time soon.

And while the majority of people welcome the reopening of a dramatically upgraded Sandals, we have to focus on the fact that its re-entry into Barbados has not in itself fuelled any recent increased airlift. With a delayed proposed building start date of at least August 2016, a new Beaches,  may be available in 2019.

So the question that has to be asked is, who is going to fill all those extra seats in the interim? Government and its representatives must eventually comprehend that every week that goes by without other hoteliers being granted the same incentives as Sandals that this task becomes more and more difficult, if not impossible for the rest of the tourism sector to address.

With already restricted marketing spend, if we do not find a meaningful solution it will only be a question of time until seat support monies will have to be pulled.

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