The Adrian Loveridge Column – Tourism is the ONLY Lifeline
As we rapidly approach the start of the peak winter season I imagine that our public sector planners and policymakers and more proactive private sector tourism players are now in hyper-drive to maximise both revenue and occupancy during this critical period.
Certainly in the 40 plus years that I have been promoting Barbados I cannot think of a more crucial time than now, in our economic survival and possible recovery where tourism has such an important role.
When I hear repeated uttering’s from certain pundits that we have become far too reliant on tourism, it brings a wry smile, especially when they frequently offer no sustainable alternative. We have sadly almost let any hope of a vibrant agricultural sector implode, by choosing instead to deny any meaningful support or opportunity of feeding ourselves and visitors. Instead our Government has encouraged major hospitality providers to import endless numbers of refrigerated containers, free of duties and taxes.
Yes, there may be secondary benefits with employment generation, but when taxes are dramatically increased on what can only be considered as staple items for the masses and lest we forget our visitors too, what is the real overall benefit to the population at large?
If the truth is told, we face some severe challenges this winter, in at least two of our major markets. The United Kingdom still feeling the currency effects of what seems like a near impossible Brexit, compounded by a higher than anticipated inflation rate of around 3 per cent which will certainly impact negatively on property values and disposable income.
The new seasonal flights with Virgin from Heathrow and Thomas Cook from Gatwick will definitely help.
As with the current three times weekly Manchester Thomas Cook flight, this airline is frequently used by people looking for lower cost alternatives, especially second home owners and savvy holiday makers looking for more options including one-way tickets. This alone has enabled those who make multiple visits, to purchase their tickets in the UK avoiding our inhibitive 17.5 per cent VAT on air travel.
Follow the social media outlets carefully and what has grown from the occasional mention, to what now appears to be a steady stream of Canadians questioning whether we are truly, as a destination, offer value-for-money?
While the Canadian Dollar was on a par with its southern neighbour, this probably was not such a concern, but currently at around 79 cents to the US Dollar, we have to find more creative ways of dissipating that Barbados can be affordable to our many loyal returnees and new first time visitors from Canada.
Despite being our fourth largest market the overwhelming percentage of visitors applying for our re-DISCOVER discount voucher are Canadians. In fact they outnumber any other major market by a ratio of 4:1. This, to us, at least indisputably confirms the need to again, demonstrate that we can offer truly value-for-money if we have any hope of either maintaining or increasing arrival numbers.
Our USA market has been transformed in a relatively short period and personally I see this as having the greatest growth potential in the short to medium term. The head of the Barbados Tourism Marketing Inc (BTMI) has called for additional gateways, citing Washington, Maryland, Philadelphia, Chicago and Los Angeles as the most desirable. While the last two mentioned, previously may have previously had nonstop range challenges, the new aircraft being operated by some airlines, now make it a reality.