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THE ISSUE (ON THE RIGHT): Ageing Brits offer some security

Antilles Economics

THE ISSUE (ON THE RIGHT): Ageing Brits offer some security

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Can Barbados still rely on the British tourism market?

The importance of the United Kingdom (UK) market to the local tourism industry is clear. Brits spend more per person per trip and in aggregate than tourists from other significant markets like the United States and Canada. They also tend to stay on the island longer and make multiple visits.

Despite a slight upturn in 2014, arrivals from the UK are a long way from the highs of the mid-2000s. Since 2008, the number of British visitors has fallen by a cumulative 15 per cent, the second largest decline during this period. When you delve deeper, it appears that the decline has been concentrated in certain segments of the market, resulting in the emergency of a ‘new’ British visitor to Barbados.

The image of Barbados in the UK seems to be of an island retreat for the rich and famous, dotted with incredible beaches and the “colonial riches” of the British empire.

A trip to Barbados appears to be perceived and marketed as a luxury holiday for Brits. However, there is growing evidence to suggest that the concept of luxury may be making way for value for money, at least for visitors to the island since 2008.

In summary, the profile of the modern British tourist to Barbados is changing, trending towards the over 40s, shorter trips, and a greater emphasis on value for money.

This is having a profound impact on expenditure trends as well as how visitors plan their trip, with travellers increasingly likely to plan their holidays themselves rather than depend on tour operators.

It can be argued that these trends may be temporary. It is still too early in the UK recovery to tell. However, these changes have raised some important considerations.

There may always be an association between Barbados and luxury, as this perception is deeply rooted in the history of relations between the country and its former colonial master.

But, if price and value for money are indeed of greater importance to the modern British tourist, especially the younger visitor, Barbados may have an uphill battle to decode the expectations of visitors and modify tourism businesses to suit.

This fight gets all the harder when you factor in that Barbados is also facing significant competition from destinations that are perceived to be trendier and cheaper.

The current practice of discounting rates, which many tourism businesses had intended to be a temporary measuring during the downturn, may be harder to reverse than initially thought. If value for money becomes an increasingly sought after criteria for British tourists, many tourism businesses may have to completely rethink their business model.

The ageing of the average visitor to Barbados may not necessarily be a negative development, though it warrants close monitoring. The older Brits have proven themselves to be more resilient to economic downturns. Although they have also reduced spending, it is more likely that their spending patterns will return to pre-2008 levels than their young peers, since they were able to maintain employment levels throughout the UK econoic slump.

However, if Barbados has indeed lost its appeal to younger generations, the ageing of the average British visitor will eventually shrink this market into insignificance.