Around this time of the year it is difficult not to spare a few thoughts for all those involved in tourism, directly or otherwise, who sacrifice their quality precious time with family to take care of our visitors over the Christmas period. Of course they are not alone with other sectors including the essential services assuming the same responsibility. As someone, through work commitments, who has only celebrated a personal Christmas four times during the past 40 years, my thanks and admiration to you all for your dedication.
There have been many predictions and projections made recently about an anticipated increase in long stay visitors in 2015 when compared with this year. A figure of a 6 per cent rise has been quoted, but I would caution all tourism partners against any complacency they may be lured into. With hopefully Sandals Casuarina re-opening on schedule at the end of January and maintaining an optimistic 90 per cent occupancy level before any rooms are added, this would attract around 24,000 visitors, based on two persons sharing and an average 7 night stay before year end.
According to CTO (Caribbean Tourism Organisation) statistics, Barbados recorded a total of 508,520 stay over visitors in 2013, which was a 5.2 per cent decline when compared with the 2012 figures. Therefore factoring in the potential Sandals and an overall 6 per cent rise would only produce a net gain of 6,500 visitors spread across every other accommodation provider.
Perhaps a more realistic objective would be a target of 10 per cent. There is no doubt that a brand new Sandals built with the concessions granted that many hoteliers are still dreaming about will drive new business. But is it a two edge sword? The question still remains as to exactly what proportion of their earnings in fact find its way to Barbados at all. And while the brand will inevitably attract some European business, will it be at the cost of reducing visitor average stay with an increase in North American business.
Hopefully the ultimate result will produce a tangible national benefit for more than a single hotel operator.
Sir Richard Branson’s decision to enter the cruise ship market is a fascinating one, especially at a time when this segment has been witnessing almost unprecedented levels of discounting and massive over capacity in the Caribbean. There is, no doubt Virgin’s principal strength is its brand and I am sure they will introduce many innovative new concepts and possibly capture a niche that currently isn’t being fully exploited.
Clearly in-house airlines Virgin Atlantic, Virgin America together with the Delta partnership will give any ship operator a distinctive advantage and I see a whole range of opportunities for exciting new cruise and stay programmes. As an example – fly from London to Miami, cruise the Caribbean for 7 days, a week’s hotel stay and fly back to the UK from Barbados. Or thinking one step further, what a coup if one of new Virgin ships was home-ported in Bridgetown!
The current dominant leader Carnival Group does not have that flexibility, at least for the time being.
May I wish all readers a very Happy Christmas or holiday season.