EDITORIAL: High-end tourism push needed
THE PERFORMANCE of the tourism sector over the past two years has been heralded as fantastic. This has obviously been good news for the economy given the heavy reliance on the sector to provide jobs and earn foreign exchange. Little wonder there are smiles on the faces of the ministers of tourism and finance, as well as many within the hospitality industry.
But, amid the bright rays are some dim beams as highlighted by immediate past chairman of the Barbados Hotel and Tourism Association, Sunil Chatrani. One problem he pinpointed was under-performance in the luxury end of the market.
This must be a major concern given the importance of that segment to the overall market, both as a generator of quality jobs and its ability to earn significant income. This is a national problem and not one just for the hoteliers and luxury villa owners who are constantly reviewing their bottom lines.
The record influx of 591 892 visitors last year suggests that we have become more mass-based rather than the high income niche for which Barbados was once known. We appreciate that the type of style of visitor has changed over the years, and as we strive for increased traffic in both air and cruise tourism, promotional efforts must still focus on capturing a significant portion of the luxury end of the market.
Barbados desperately needs the tax revenue from tourist receipts, but we do not want to become a Venice, but rather like France which has realised that tourism, done properly, can underwrite the protection of our way of life and landscape and not lead to environmental and cultural pollution.
Achieving these objectives cannot be just left to anecdotal comments but must be driven by research not only in traditional source markets, but emerging ones also. We must be conscious of the dramatic changes taking place in growing high-end markets such as China which had 120 million outbound tourists last year, and India, whose wealthy citizens have been spending billions on overseas purchases, both in fashion brands and accessories.
The World Travel Monitor has reported that high spenders are the fastest growing segment of the travel industry, having jumped 48 per cent in the five years since 2010. Available research has also shown that this shift is happening faster amongst the growing number of wealthy millennials who place greater value on access to experiences.
Our tourism officials, from those in the product and marketing sectors to the owners of luxury properties and workers, need to consider how to offer visitors to our shores items that can become valued souvenirs of their experiences and also as manifestations to others of an exotic destination. We have the items and the experiences and must not be shy to exploit, highlight and promote them.