Submitted by Stanton Carter, Brand Caribbean Inc
I usually enjoy reading Adrian Loveridge’s column but respectfully did not see any substantive suggestions for a new game to support the Tourism industry in the March 23, 2020 posting.
To cut to the chase, the reference to and comments about the September 11th, 2001 disaster, the airlift dependency, the suspended cruise ship sailings, the banks’ credit card incentives and speculation that the resident population could generate opportunities for domestic tourism may have helped to illustrate the economic challenges Barbados could face post Covid-19 but the statements in my opinion appeared to be more reactive than proactive.
What was noticeably missing from the article was the absence of a plan to rebuild and sustain the island’s tourism industry post Covid-19. As no mention was made of a recovery program, presumably expectations are that the virus will “miraculously” disappear and it will be business as usual. Unfortunately, the Caribbean Association of Banks’ statement – “It will no longer be business as usual for the foreseeable future” could be a true indicator of what is in store for the island.
If a new game is required to support the Tourism industry, it will necessitate a combined effort between the Private and Public sectors. These two organizations collaborated before to advance the island’s tourism industry and there is no reason why in unprecedented times they could not join forces again. Perhaps they need to be reminded, they are both working to achieve similar benefits for the destination and that a combination of financial and manpower resources, expertise, and industry contacts could help to sustain and restore tourism to new and greater visitor arrivals levels the island ever experienced.
Any attempt to try to return to a state of normality after Covid-19, will involve dramatic changes. Operating on the premise that if we build, re-brand and upgrade facilities visitors will come, will no longer be the industry’s acceptable standard. The new normal for the Tourism industry will depend significantly on
IT and digital technology. The soft sell approach for marketing and promoting Barbados as a holiday destination will have to be expanded to include social media platforms.
Competition between Caribbean member states for visitor traffic will be fierce and some destinations may not attain previous arrival levels. Those islands whose livelihood depends on tourism will be out in full force globally, utilizing digitalized marketing and promotion techniques to motivate visitors to return to Paradise. Most likely, Jamaica, Bahamas, Dominican Republic and Cuba already have recovery action plans drawn up for implementation on short notice. If Barbados wishes to maintain a competitive edge, it must act accordingly.
The way I see it, for Barbados to regain and maintain popularity worldwide with consumers, a rebuilding program should be developed to allow for joint programming with airlines, tour operators and travel agent consortiums serving the destination.
My recommendations for a new game to support and rebuild Tourism are as follows:
A “DOING BARBADOS” RECOVERY PLAN – This plan should consist of two (2) distinct phases:
PHASE # 1- Maintaining a Presence
The immediate creation and launching of a digital destination campaign to keep Barbados foremost in the minds of global travellers and to inspire consumers to visit Barbados after Covid-19.
On April 03 Jamaica introduced its digital “Escape to Jamaica” program on its @Visit Jamaica Instagram channel. On April 06, Grenada followed suit with its “# Grenada Dreaming” campaign. Bahamas also recently launched its new from “The Bahamas with love” mini digital vacation video. All 3 programs were designed to provide consumers with a virtual getaway to their respective destinations. Content involved music, culture, cuisine, nature and friendly people, the trademarks of a Caribbean vacation. Barbados needs to do likewise and launch a similar type campaign.
PHASE # 2 – Rebuilding the Industry
Barbados tourism industry like most Caribbean destinations will have suffered immense damage as a result of Covid-19. Rebuilding the industry will be a major challenge. It will take time to attain and achieve previous productivity levels. Future tourism programming will also have to be vastly superior to those of other sun destinations as potential visitors will be searching for affordable value for money holiday bargains. To this end, consideration should be given to launching a 3 year incentive rebuilding action plan campaign.
SUGGESTED REBUILDING ACTION PLAN MARKETING OBJECTIVES
- To influence and motivate consumers to select Barbados as their warm weather holiday destination
- To grow visitor arrivals to the levels Barbados experienced prior to Covid -19
- To improve hotel occupancies, especially the small hotels
- To increase visitors’ length of stay
- To revisit and reform the Ministry of Tourism and the BTM Inc institutional framework to meet the demands and requirements of the new era tourism
- The Barbados Tourism Marketing Inc. and the Barbados Hotel and Tourism Association should convene a meeting ASAP to discuss, create and partner
a progressive destination marketing recovery program that will span 3 years.
- The program should feature a platinum incentive holiday package with add-on items in Year # 2 and #3
- The incentive should target market international travellers and repeat visitors. It should be designed to allow the BTMI, the BHTA, airlines and their tour companies, tour operators, wholesalers and travel agents to participate. The probability of including cruise ship passengers in the program should be considered
- Local activities programming should involve representation from the BTMI, BHTA, hotels, tour companies, restaurants, taxi companies, water sports operators, entertainers, artists, etc. Consideration should be given to establishing a special task force committee to work on the rebuilding project
- The program should comprise of all types of accommodation, especially the small hotels
- The program should be supported by social and traditional media platforms
- A Public Relations campaign should be launched to let consumers know Barbados is open for business
- Training seminars should be undertaken by the BTMI overseas offices in their respective markets to educate travel agents in small group sizes 25-30 on the new program
- Educational visitations by travel agents, overseas journalists, travel writers and travel press should be an integral part of the program
- Year # 1 programming should be available for implementation at the earliest possible date in the event Covid-19 comes to an early end.
- Increase incentives and expand activities planned and implemented in Year # 1
- Expand target marketing campaigns to include special interest and niche market groups such as Diaspora, Cultural, Foodies, Weddings and Honeymoons and Snow Birds
- Advertising and Public Relations campaign expenditures should weigh heavily on targeting consumers to select Barbados as their destination of choice for holidays
- Investigate possibility of hosting travel agent evening receptions in some markets
- Review, make changes and improvements to the Ministry of Tourism and BTMI Institutional structure to allow for effective involvement in the new era tourism
(a) Review and improve where necessary relations with local hotels, taxis, restaurants, water sports operators, etc
(b) Evaluate external relations with airlines, tour operators, wholesalers and cruise lines
(c) Review and upgrade contractual arrangements with advertising and public relations agencies
(d) Review and evaluate operation and optics of BTMI overseas offices.
(e) Review Community Development and Tourism activities
- Continuation and expansion of activities and incentives utilized in Years # 1 and # 2
- Introduce joint BTMI and BHTA overseas promotional tours
- Conduct BMTI and BHTA meeting to review continuation of the recovery plan or the introduction of a new and different campaign for rebuilding and supporting Barbados Tourism Industry
- Evaluate and consider the possibility of establishing a destination tour company
Finally, the one thought which has been constant in mind while creating this proposal is Robert Burns’ quotation on planning – “The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry”. There is much food for thought in his message. New challenges will crop-up during the planning stages and they should not be ignored. One item top of the list is airlift. Barbados alone cannot kick start the rebuilding of its tourism industry. It will require airline assistance, preferable from carriers with scheduled services and their own tour companies. These will generate a mixture of visitors – package holidays vacationers and F.I.T travellers – and allow for a wider distribution of product sales.
Hopefully the Ministry of Tourism and the BTMI have already recognized this need and are conducting negotiations with the airlines serving Barbados to provide airlift at reasonable promotional rates for post Covid-19 travellers.
The above recommendations are not carved in stone. They can be changed, upgraded or deleted. The whole idea was to provide a guideline on how to deal with the current and post Covid-19 environment.