THE HOYOS FILE: Griffith gives back
“Two days ago it was 37 years I’ve been in this business – but I think I’ve enjoyed every minute.”
– Billy Griffith, September 2016.
The transition from the former Barbados Tourism Authority (BTA) to Barbados Tourism Marketing Inc. (BTMI) was “the creation of a true destination marketing company,” says BTMI chief executive officer (CEO) William “Billy” Griffith.
“We are driven to adapt the business model away from the old traditional method of trying to get business which was all heavily travel agent and tour operator and print advertising to the new media and also the new method of how you get to the customer compared to how it was years ago.”
A quarter of a century after leaving his homeland of Barbados to take up a hotel management job in Bermuda, where he rose through the industry’s private sector and then, in 2008, was appointed Bermuda’s director of tourism, Griffith learned about a vacancy in the same line of work back home.
It was for a CEO to head the new BTMI, the marketing company that, along with the Barbados Tourism Product Authority, would succeed the BTA.
He applied for the job and got it, taking up his duties at the end of 2014.
Coming back home seemed to fulfill a calling which he says he had felt for some time. “Me being here, is not accidental, in a sense, because I’ve long had the inclination to want to make the contribution. I’ve spent two-thirds of my working life outside of Barbados, and I accepted the opportunity with both hands but with a certain degree of honour and respect.”
When he first returned home, Griffith says, just speaking to Barbadians made him realise the “the enormity and the responsibility of trying to drive tourism for success.
“There’s an expectation that tourism has to lead us out, and as I say to my friends, ‘No pressure, let’s do it!’”
Griffith started his career in tourism as a management trainee at Sandy Lane Hotel in 1979. He spent nine years there, being promoted through many positions to eventually becoming the food and beverage manager until his transfer to a sister hotel in Bermuda. Sandy Lane at that time was owned by Trust House Forte (THF) and Griffith was offered the chance in 1988 to go to Bermuda to manage another of its properties, The Harmony Club, an all-inclusive hotel.
THF was a big regional tourism player in those days, owning hotels in Barbados, Bermuda, The Bahamas, Jamaica and Guyana.
But Bermuda seemed to be the place for the young manager and his career thrived.
He and three other partners eventually bought Harmony Club and he continued to run it for a while. He also formed a management company called Bermuda Resort Hotels, of which he was the president and CEO, and which ran four other hotels on the island.
I asked Griffith what made him interested in becoming a director of tourism, first in Bermuda and now in Barbados, after spending most of his career actually running hotels.
He said that even though being trained in hotel management by THF, he was its regional sales manager for a four-year period, and his role at the hotels he managed always included being the leader of the marketing effort.
“I’ve always had that understanding and ability to be a marketeer,” he said.
This gave him the confidence to apply for the Bermuda post, and the experience in that job gave him a better understanding of the balance between the private and public sector in the tourism industry.
As for Barbados’ recently improved performance in tourism, Griffith notes that the turnaround started in 2014 but efforts were being made and plans put in place before he took the BTMI helm, mainly in increasing airlift and the number of hotel rooms.
Barbados’ recent resurgence in long stay arrivals may be the headline news, but Griffith sees a deeper trend.
“For the first time in a significant period of time, you see hotel rejuvenation and construction. It gives you an indication of where we are positioned in 2016 for the future. So that much I’m confident on.”
And what does think he personally brings to the job? “I think I try to bring an example and an energy that we want to succeed in trying to turn the tourism ship around, and in our marketing we have become a lot more aggressive.
“I have tried to lead with the hard work and focus in on winning.”
He adds: “It really is about communicating the vision. It’s all about setting objectives, so I established, for example, a performance appraisal system across the entire organisation.
“I would have set the broad objectives at the beginning of the year, and every department has their individual objectives that match what the big company goal is, so everybody is focussed in on trying to achieve what they need to do at their individual level.”
Griffith says he has been able to achieve his overall vision so far because he has “a significantly supportive board” which is chaired by Alvin Jemmott and a similarly-supportive minister of tourism in Richard Sealy.