If there was a single phrase to describe this winter tourism season, I think it may be great expectations. Despite all the wild speculation which included ‘this November has been one of the best Barbados had seen in a while’ being made by tourism officials, the month in fact ended by recording the lowest long stay visitors for any November during the last 11 years. It also heralded 20 consecutive months of stay over visitor decline.
As this is the latest in a long line of unfulfilled predictions this year, is it time for our policymakers to focus more attention on what can be achieved, rather than drift into the realms of prophecy and conjecture. I wonder just how much longer we can go on trying to justify rewarding failure. So much is riding on the performance of our tourism sector over the next 120 plus days leading up until next Easter Monday on 22 April, not only in terms of occupancy, but in the critical role of trying to claw back lost revenue from the last almost two lean years.
In our key market, the United Kingdom, traditionally there is a booking surge when tour operators step up their promotional activities on Boxing Day. But one of the largest travel companies, Thomas Cook, pre-empted its competitors by launching a massive sale, two weeks prior to Christmas to tempt the bargain hunters into commitment for summer 2014.
With the Brits still under economic pressure, those with stretched budgets will be tempted by the low holiday prices on offer. Inevitably this will help dilute demand for Barbados and other destinations, not perceived as providing the very best value-for-money. While, there is very little we can do at this late stage to influence winter performance, it is going to be even more critical to launch some sort of ‘national’ programme that will drive business post Easter.
And if the existing agencies like the Barbados Tourism Authority are unable or unwilling to fulfill their mandates due to budget restraints, then an alternative private sector marketing initiative has to be put in place. As we end yet another year still without a tourism master plan and the vast majority of other ‘initiatives’ unfulfilled, including the ten point plan, that same worn phrase, it cannot be business as usual simply cannot be regurgitated rhetoric for 2014.
‘The tourism plantocracy are at it again… when will we have one Barbados…we need a group of people who will create a new revolution that will move us as a nation forward, instead of looking for ways of bleeding us’.
After reading these verbatim comments, I was left with an overwhelming feeling that those of us actively involved in the sector, have done, over the years a pretty dismal job of explaining the industry and the challenges we face. Perhaps even more surprising the person who uttered this provocative statement recently, was no less than the former Deputy Chairman of the Barbados Tourism Authority and who personally had several years to put his ‘revolution’ in place. Could this be yet another example of not walking the walk, but just talking the talk?