With a little more than two weeks before the start of what may become one of the most defining tourism winter seasons in our recent history, many are left just to guess at what will happen.
Yes! of course you can draw some comparisons with forward direct bookings, but with a heavy dependence on tour operator driven business for a high proportion of our hotels, it is far more difficult to make any accurate predictions. Clearly, a number of factors have negatively affected the industry’s performance, and to put in perspective, I think its important to study the figures*.
For the four years from, 2008-2011, we (Barbados) averaged 546,533 long stay visitor arrivals each year.
In the previous four years, 2004-2007, the average was 558,632. Simply put, that’s a decline of nearly 50,000 visitors over the comparable periods. Arguments could of course be made, and have in some quarters, that the average stay has increased, but without directly comparing this over a sustained period, it is almost irrelevant. And it becomes totally meaningless unless average spend has risen faster than the number of nights our accommodation offerings are occupied. Certainly the steep reduction in arrivals from our largest market, the UK, would not have helped this equation.
Without this critical information, it’s simply speculation about the overall performance of the industry and that does absolutely nothing to help devise meaningful solutions. So perhaps, at least our winter destiny, might be in the hands of climatic conditions, with weather bad enough to stimulate travel, but not to disrupt it. Nor does the possibility of exceptionally cold spells in our source markets, give us divine right to expect increased arrival numbers,
Without any coherent ‘national’ marketing campaign in place that directly converts destination interest into solid bookings at desirable rates, the industry is left to flounder on its own, using any resources that it can individually muster to make a difference. Of course, an increasing number of tourism partners already practice this policy, preferring at least to try and control their own destiny.
Perhaps this is the direction we should be heading, as clearly the figures demonstrate there has been no real growth in tourism generated by national marketing efforts over the last five years This despite the significant funds that have been allocated to the agency responsible, and the introduction followed by the subsequent loss of new airlift, which will further drive numbers down.
So what can ‘we’ do?
In the hope that climatic conditions will be on our side, everything must be done to raise the destination awareness to keep it ‘top of mind’. Its OK to brag about the number of website hits and raising our profile, but if there is no call to action, its almost impossible to justify the monies spent.
One of our larger all inclusive hotels is offering travel agents, complimentary three night stays, with additional nights at just US$45 per person per night until 15 December. We must use our empty beds and airlines seats now to influence not just the travel trade, but travel writers, group and incentive planners, sports organisers, wedding and honeymoon organisers and any other niche market that can influence and deliver visitors.
Of course there is a cost element involved, but just like an aircraft, once its taken off, you cannot sell the seat, the same applies to a vacant room after the night has passed.