Last month the Canadian Tourism Commission, the Crown’s corporation which acts as a national tourism marketing board for that country, announced that it was going to stop advertising in the United States. I am sure it took many by surprise.
The Ottawa Sun seemed to capture the spirit behind the decision with a bold headline screaming ‘Ottawa no longer wants to waste time and money trying to lure American tourists to the land of moose, mountains and Mounties’.
At first, this decision appears to defy any logic. An immediate neighbour with nine times your own population, a staggering 316 million potential visitors on your doorstep. Among the justifying reasons were that the typical US visitor spent, on average, only US$518 per trip to Canada last year, the lowest amount spent by any international visitor group. By contrast, tourists from Brazil spent an average of US$1,874 per trip.
CTC, vice-president of strategy and corporate communications, Paul Nursey, stated ‘Dollar for dollar, advertising in overseas markets was proven to generate a higher return on investment than the United States’. Since 2000, the share of tourism industry revenue from outside Canada has dropped from 35 per cent of the industry total to just below 19 percent and the decline is largely attributed to diminished travel from the U.S. market.
It got me thinking, is there are any parallels with Barbados.
In the five year inclusive period 2003 to 2007, we welcomed 654,282* American long stay visitors. From 2008 to 2012 that number had marginally grown to 662,246* or just 7,965 additional people. To put that in perspective, it represents around 30 more visitors per week. So far, this year (January-April), US visitor arrivals have fallen by 5,703 and if the current trend continues, when the May figures are released, further disappointing numbers could eliminate any minimal gain at all over the last five years.
Traditionally, the United States has always has always received the lion’s share of the annual Barbados Tourism Authority (BTA) budget, and frankly I have always found this difficult to understand. Especially when you consider the United Kingdom produces higher visitor numbers and the average “Brit’ stays far longer, therefore contributing more in just about every way. Plus the BTA budget has to meet the cost of two offices (New York and Miami) in the USA, against the lone London location. Should we be asking the same question Canada’s national tourism marketing agency is asking and direct precious promotional funds into the areas that have the highest return?
We have had every opportunity to increase United States arrivals with the addition of over 1,000 seats a week alone with lost-cost carrier, JetBlue since October 2009. Sadly, other new routes that have been introduced like Atlanta, Dallas, Philadelphia and Charlotte have not generated sufficient traffic to keep them flying, either at all, or more than a limited seasonal service.
So am I advocating that ‘we’ follow Canada’s example?
Absolutely not. But it seems to make no sense whatsoever, to continue ploughing tens of millions of dollars, plus an disproportionate allocation of human and other resources in a market that is not producing any significant and sustained growth.