As the current Minister of Tourism so rightly, when recently reminding us that Niche Markets play an absolutely critical role in our overall tourism industry. And protecting these special interest areas is fundamental to the sector’s long term survival and development.
Just about ten years ago, a prominent local businessman, persuaded Britain’s largest tour operator specialising in walking tours to consider including Barbados in their programme. A week or so later, the chief executive officer and his wife were on a plane and we had the pleasure to host them and personally escort the couple on a number of island walks. Frankly at that stage, I had neither the confidence or knowledge to even consider acting as a walk leader, and I will be eternally grateful to the late Dr. Colin Hudson for his invaluable assistance in ensuring that the itinerary was attractive from a clients point of view and practically operational.
Next year, multi award winning HF Holidays will celebrate a century in business and still operate to Barbados, which became one of its best selling worldwide destinations. During our decade, while accommodating their customers, some returned up to seven times. Quite a remarkable accolade, especially when you view the choice of destinations they offer. That success led to the company’s biggest competitor, Ramblers, also including Barbados in their offerings together with a number of walking clubs in North America.
Like other niche markets, the price of the holiday is almost always not the primary consideration, as the traveller is looking for a ‘unique’ experience, which rarely can be provided by the standard off-the-shelf tour operator.Because of the island’s typography and climate, coastal walks are especially popular and attractive. But sadly over the last few years, many of what were clearly defined paths along our coast have fallen into disrepair and are now virtually impassable. Even where its still possible to scrabble by, passage is often restricted and excessively challenging due a total absence of any maintenance. One classic example is the dismal failure to replace the bridge over Joe’s River, below the now abandoned Edgewater Hotel, despite the passing of four or five years.
To add insult to injury, tons of builders waste has been dumped over the public footpath, and it would be difficult to dispute the culprit, as the name of the company is displayed prominently for all to see. Why is this allowed? Particularly when you bear in mind that the same construction firm has previously been the beneficiary of awarded Government contracts.
When you think that not a cent of the BTA budget has been spent or a single airline seat subsidised to attract thousands of hikers over the years. Is it not in the national interest to protect what is already an important market for us?
When greeting the various groups on arrival, to know that often one in every ten seats on a full British Airways B777 was occupied by a ‘walker’, demonstrated the importance of this niche. I read recently in this publication that a greater emphasis is to be placed on attracting younger visitors. In theory, it sounds plausible, but I wonder exactly what research this decision has been based on.
Hopefully, equal effort and resources will be allocated to these tourism segments that have been nurtured and grown over the last ten years. Surely we cannot squander all the benefits they have brought, through neglect and indifference?