The Chairperson of the Barbados Hotel and Tourism Association (BHTA) Renee Coppin reacted to the announcement by given support to the increase, BUT, criticized the process. She opined there was a lack of proper consultation with key stakeholders by not giving sufficient time to factor the increase in business planning by those who will be most effected. There was a suggestion the increase could have been implemented after a 90 day disclosure period.
A shared article on a well-known social media platform on May 11/2022 respecting Barbados and the Caribbean tourism recovery progress brought back memories of a posting in the March 23 /2020 edition of Barbados Underground under the caption “We need a new game to promote Tourism”. Both articles offered opinionated suggestions on the development of various sectors of the tourism industry but neither one embodied a program for the way forward. Recommendations appeared to be relying on the induced demand strategy for generating visitor arrivals, but this approach might not produce desired results.
In the post pandemic period, digital technology will be the axle tourism officials will utilize to drive and operate tourism industries. Competition between Caribbean states for tourism receipts will be fierce. To survive, tourism dependent destinations will have to create and implement tourism master plans that are innovative and futuristic.
If a change is necessary, a business model should be put in place that (1) will modernize and keep destination programming abreast of industry technology and (2) develop and introduce diverse collaborative marketing campaigns that are consumer and travel trade oriented. Product distribution and tourism revenue generating initiatives should be incorporated in the program as they will be a Force Majeure in the new era tourism.
THE NEW BUSINESS MODEL
One of the non-publicised benefits Covid-19 provided Caribbean destinations dependent on tourism revenue, was the opportunity to review and upgrade their Modus Operandi. The chance to recalibrate and improve destination programming was apparently passed over as tourism authorities appeared to favour a return to pre covid marketing strategies.
The new model would necessitate upgrading and expanding current business strategies to include rebranding, monetizing tourism activities, product distribution, concentrating on community programming, and depending on resources, the establishment of a” National Destination Tour Company” with Internet Booking Engine (IBE) functionality.
BENEFITS OF A NEW MODEL
1 – Reduced dependence on international tour operators, foreign carriers and their tour companies, wholesalers, and hotels reps for generating visitor traffic
2 – Building a better working relationship between Public and Private sectors in marketing and promoting destination
3 – Establishment of national destination tour company branches in overseas markets
4 – Generate tourism revenue and eliminate need for government subsidies
5 – Better management, control, and distribution of tourism product
6 -The building a tourism industry that is not susceptible to industry partners
“High and Low Season” marketing activities
NATIONAL DESTINATION TOUR COMPANY
The incorporation of a national tour company with a booking engine in a destination’s tourism authority infrastructure will not only level the playing field but lessen third-party involvement. It will reduce marketing and promotional expenditures, open new avenues for generating revenues, create employment opportunities, provide effective industry management, and year-round competitive programming. Moreover, it will generate visitor arrivals.
The internet booking engine concept is also not new. It is an updated, upgraded digitalized version of the reservation/sales function which appointed travel product wholesalers in overseas markets performed for Caribbean destinations in the 1960-1970’s prior to the evolution of tour companies. The booking engine would enable direct destination bookings and revenue earned remains in country.
There is also the precedent of the successful and productive use of the above-type business model in support of a popular Caribbean Island for approximately 30 years. Some tangible destination project benefits include (a) a dedicated airline service, (b) premium marketing campaigns, (c) an out of country licensed sales facility, (d) affordable tourism/hospitality holiday packages, and (e) excellent working relationships with international airlines, travel trade professionals and tour operators. Estimated arrivals at this destination in 2022, approximately 2.5 million visitors.
If Caribbean destinations are seeking solutions for a robust recovery of their tourism industries, an adaptation of this model could be the resolve.
DIVERSE COLLABORATIVE PROGRAMMING
Most Caribbean destinations experienced major tourism revenue losses due to Covid-19. To attempt to rebuild tourism industries in the post pandemic era, programmers will have to create and offer value laden affordable holiday packages “chock-a-block with authentic enjoyable experiences” that are superior to other programs in the marketplace.
To enlighten persons not familiar with tourism programming, the following is a draft blueprint of a diverse collaborative master plan that could be utilized by any Caribbean destination.
A SWEET FUH SO HOLIDAY PACKAGE
1 – Tourism and Hotel Association officials should convene a meeting to discuss the creation of a Public – Private Sector Collaborative “Sweet Fuh So Holiday Program.”
2- Meeting participants should include Tourism and Hotel Association executives, local and international airlines, their tour companies, overseas and local tour operators, wholesalers, travel professionals and destination stakeholders. The probability of including cruise lines should be considered.
3-The appointment of a Special Marketing Task Force Committee to work on the rebuilding project.
4-The Holiday Package components, to mention a few, should include – Visitor Arrival Receptions, Airfares, Accommodation, Culinary & Gastronomy Outings, Entertainment, Water Sports, Exceptional Events, and other memorable Experiences, that would make the destination the paramount location for exciting year-round “Sweet Fuh So Holidays”.
5-Packkage amenities should be chosen by the Special Task Force Committee.
6-Destination Stakeholders should be a combination of Tourism and Hotel Association officials, hotels, tour companies, entertainers, restaurants, taxi drivers, water sports operators, artists, immigration, customs, and police departments.
7-Marketing strategies should utilize social media and traditional platforms
to target market Cultural, Foodies, Weddings and Honeymooners, Diaspora, Snowbirds, Millennials, LGBTQ2+, etc.
8-A Public Relations campaign should be launched to notify consumers the destination is open for business.
9-Training seminars should be conducted by destination’s overseas offices in respective markets to educate travel professionals in small groups of 25-30 on the new program.
10-Planned destination educational visitations for travel agents, overseas journalists, travel writers and travel press should be an integral part of the program.
11-The Holiday package should be available for immediate implementation in the event the pandemic comes to a quick end.
Not all the components of the tourism master plan are listed in this draft document. One such item involves “Incentives”. If incorporated in the program, a three-year platinum incentive promotional campaign could be developed that would enhance the destination’s brand globally.
As most Caribbean islands are airline dependent destinations, they will require air connectivity from carriers, preferably those who own and operate tour companies, to kick start their tourism industries. These partnerships could generate a variety of visitors – package holiday’s vacationers, F.I.T travellers, M.I.C.E, and Sports groups – that would result in better utilization of the destination’s hotel rooms inventory. Negotiating such support services is another feature of the plan.
Project success and results will depend upon a destination’s Private and Public sectors joint efforts to develop effective collaborative programming. Willingness to discard yesterday’s marketing techniques, in favour of utilizing innovative digital solutions, would make the recovery resilient. To facilitate planning and development of strategies for future master plans, Caribbean destinations should consider establishing permanent Private and Public sectors tourism marketing committees. In the digital era, the Caribbean needs to transition to the new technology or continue to experience declines in visitor arrivals.
A two-week circuit-breaker lockdown could be introduced in England after Christmas to combat the rise of the Omicron coronavirus variant.
Following the advice of scientific advisers, The Times has reported, government officials had prepared draft regulations that would reintroduce restrictions similar to those in step two of that country’s roadmap out of lockdown last spring.
The UK is one of Barbados’ primary tourist markets. The tourism and hospitality sector is greeting the Brits and their pound with open arms after the island’s tourist season officially began on Wednesday, December 15. This week also saw news of striking nurses, members of the UWU, become the centre of national attention. What is the genesis of the impasse?
A former Minister of Health (a Government Senator) has chided the head of the Unity Workers Union (an Opposition Senator) but … how many of the nurses’ longstanding issues were allowed to fester under his ministerial stewardship? What insight of the genesis of the impasse would Dr. Walcott have?
What we will lament is the inevitable importation of the Omicron variant – in exchange for foreign exchange. Thirty pieces of silver?
What the government should do is spell out the condition of the nation’s finances and explain how desperately we are in need of the tourist arrivals.
Not the IMF.
Not the BERT Monitoring Committee.
Not the “Social Partnership”.
The Prime Minister recently chastised industrialised countries for their role in climate change. The PM lamented their lack of consultation with small island developing states. Climate justice is needed but the PM has to appreciate her government’s failings where consultation and social dialogue matter. How much dialogue was there before an agreement was brokered for a bail-out for the manufacturers of school uniforms? The private sector seems to have greater access and success with dialogue.
So is the Social Partnership one of George Orwell’s lost works? Or is the new republic sans Constitution?
DLP Tourism spokesman Richard Sealy is mistaken. He leaked the report from the Hilary Beckles led committee to come up with a new tourism slogan in the hope of embarrassing the Government; however the committee has actually done an amazingly good job.
I actually feel that I owe Professor Beckles and his committee an apology because I stated publicly that they were not up to the job, having little relevant expertise among the unwieldy membership of 18. Sorry Dr. Beckles.
They came up with three alternatives; “It’s A Bajan Thing”; “ Live Like A Bajan” and “Barbados: Feel Free”. This reminds me of the oldest consultants’ trick in the book: make three suggestions of which two are so obviously garbage that the client has no choice but to select the third.
The third suggestion, “Barbados: Feel Free” is a better tourism slogan than any we have ever had in the past. In fact, it is one of the best I have ever encountered globally. Let me explain.
A slogan needs to follow the the guidelines below and be:
Allusive (because it needs to mean subtly different things to different segments of your audience)
An appeal to emotion (because buying decisions are all made with the emotions and then rationalised intellectually afterwards)
A call to action
If you doubt me just take a look at the most successful marketing slogans of our lifetime:
Nike – Just Do It.
Apple – Think Different.
Wendy’s – Where’s the Beef?
Coca-Cola – Open Happiness.
Each one follows the guidelines that I pointed out.
“Barbados: Feel Free” is better than any tourism slogan that we have ever had. “Feel Free” is an explicit invitation to drop by for a visit, and it is the sort of relaxed invitation you extend to social equals: to family or close friends. The feeling of freedom appeals to every psychographics and demographic because everyone invests it with what feels like freedom to them. It can appeal to locals as well as visitors because that feeling of freedom is aspirational for every human being.
My name is Nathan ‘Jolly” Green; I am a Caribbean journalist, and a freelance acting on the instructions of a well-known international TV company.
Between August and December, my five-person team will begin surveying and inspecting a mixture of 150 hotels and cruise ships to test for sterilization or non-sterilization of bedrooms and bathrooms. We will be specifically inspecting bedding, linens, including pillow covers, pillows, blankets, bedspreads, and sheets. We are not only looking for laundering evidence; we are looking for sterilization.
Many Caribbean hotels will be part of our scheme, and we will book in as clients and carry out forensic tests to see if you are both laundering and sterilizing the bedding between each new guest at your hotel. If we have a severely negative result, we will notify the hotel management, and in every case, our findings will become part of an international TV program.
The above YouTube video shows a past survey. Besides UV black lights, we now also have much more scientific test equipment to detect bacteria and virus. The sophisticated equipment will not fail to detect any existing failures in duty of care to clients of hotels.
Seventy per cent of our tests will be carried out on major hotel group properties, twenty per cent on privately owned hotels, and ten per cent on cruise ships. Next year  we will be conducting tests for a second linked program on bed and breakfast establishments.
I write to you to give you a fair warning of what we intend to do, which is a better warning than many hotels provide to their clients who are being cheated on and whose health is being put at severe risk from many kinds of pathogens.
In the worst of cases, we intend to supply certified videos to government departments and prosecution attorneys. We will also be willing to appear as witnesses in subsequent court cases arising from our findings. Every course of action and procedure will be videoed and will together with the inspection form part of the same TV program.
Two things occurred which were reported in the press on June 30th, 2021 that makes one wonder what the vision for the Tourism Industry is and if there is synchronization of the plans and actions in the various departments of Government. First was an article in which it was reported that the Minister of Tourism Lisa Cummins spoke to the workers of the Grantley Adam’s International Airport about branding. Second was the delivery of the Minister in the Ministry of Finance, Ryan Straughn who stated that government had undertaken debt of $ 80 Million of the Needham’s Point Holdings Ltd which operates the Hilton Barbados Hotel by issuing a new series of B Bonds to bondholders.
These 2 seemingly unrelated occurrences makes one question the leadership at the Ministry of Tourism and the action of Mr. Straughn with regards of the plans for the industry if one takes it as a given that a vision is translated into measurable plans of action or a roadmap to achieve desired goals.
What are the objectives of the Ministry of Tourism?
Having not seen the written plans of the Ministry of Tourism, there is that degree of difficulty to state the current purpose of that entity. No one knows the purpose of the tourism industry in Barbados as its objectives or goals are not listed on the website which is shared with the Ministry of International Transport. Only the purpose of the Ministry of International Transport is listed.
The vision that should be listed on the Website should be nothing less than to eradicate poverty by a specific date. Tourism should be of service to the people of Barbados and the development of the island, otherwise what is its purpose?
The number one revenue earner in Barbados is tourism. It must serve some development goal of Barbados. Poverty eradication must be the number one development goal of Barbados. Tourism is best fitted as a tool of development to eradicate poverty in Barbados. Some persons believe that poverty cannot be eradicated. Nelson Mandela stated “Poverty is not an accident. Like slavery and apartheid, it is man-made and can be removed by the actions of human beings.”
With the amount of money that has been earned in Barbados since the late 70’s, there should be no poverty here. A portion of the earnings for tourism must be used to eradicate poverty and the Unit which falls under the Prime Minister’s office should be moved to the Ministry of Tourism. One must agree that the poor housing stock of the lower classes in Barbados is a direct result of poverty and we must set out to change this as climate change may bring hurricanes to our shores each year.
International tourism receipts are expenditures by international inbound visitors, including payments to national carriers for international transport. These receipts include any other prepayment made for goods or services received in the destination country. They also may include receipts from same-day visitors, except when these are important enough to justify separate classification. For some countries they do not include receipts for passenger transport items. Data is in current U.S. dollars.
Government Contracts can be used to eradicate Poverty.
Despite the focus on tourism, the Government of Barbados also has a major role to play in poverty eradication. Its current policy of awarding contracts to a select few Barbadians has perpetrated the existence of the very wealthy and poverty. If wealth can be created by the government awarding of its contracts, then poverty can be eradicated using the system to award the contracts to a company that is owned by the people.
The Barbados Brand
On 30th June, the Minister was reported as asking the workers of the Grantley Adams International Airport to “protect it as a brand of excellence and world class hospitality.” However, all the talk about a branding exercise and creating a new slogan, and now asking persons to protect a brand is meaningless if the intent is not to be translated into a physical component and its use to assist in the development of Barbados.
If Barbados really is a brand as is constantly touted and not just a travel destination, isn’t it time for us to see hotels and other establishments in Barbados bearing the name the Barbados Brand. Isn’t it time that we see the translation from nebulous concepts and costly slogans which have nothing to do with reality in Barbados?
The Hilton brand was started in 1969. Commercial tourism in Barbados predates 1887 when the Crane Hotel was built. Isn’t it time to have a physical brand on the ground?
Perhaps the best action in term of branding would be to relieve the contract holders of the Hilton Hotel, and brand that along with several of the smaller hotels, B&B’s and guest houses as the Barbados Brand. This is where one can view the services of the Pom Marine coming into play by standardizing the training of these establishments under one umbrella which defines the physical brand. There would be no need for the government of Barbados to pay the Hilton Hotel for the use of its name.
To the Minister of Economic Affairs, does the signed contract between the government and the company which runs the Hilton Hotel align with the actions that you have taken? Needham’s Point Ltd. had 10 years to get their act together and now you have given them 10 more years to reap super profits off the backs of the taxpayers in Barbados. Clearly this decision was not well thought out and it is certainly not an expression of confidence in developing a physical Barbados brand hotel. You should have made the agreement null and void and together with the Minister of Tourism begin the conceptualization of the Barbados brand hotels. What occurred is not good stewardship.
To the Minister of Tourism, there is work to be done! When will you start?
The following was submitted by Joe Norton PR Executive of Impressions,a UK Digital company based in the UK with an objective of directing clicks/impressions to various websites.
The blogmaster is reluctant to post submissions which have a commercial objective. In this case the opening up of the country with an improved quarantine requirement although still aggressive makes this a timely submission. The virulent Delta variant is lose in the UK. The UK is one of Barbados’ main source market for tourist arrivals. Barbados was recently listed on UK’s Green List. – David, blogmaster
Barbados Set For £270 Million Cash Boost From British Tourists Following Inclusion On UK Green List
Brits are set to splash out a whopping £270 million on trips to Barbados this year, new analysis has revealed.
While many holidaymakers missed out on a summer break abroad last year, new data suggests more than 170,000 Brits will jet off to Barbados once travel restrictions are eased.
The prediction by travel health experts Practio follows the news that the UK government has added Barbados to its green travel list meaning Brits won’t have to quarantine upon their return from holiday.
The forecast will be welcome news for businesses across the island with UK tourists set to start entering the country from Wednesday, June 30.
Analysing 10 years of historic Office for National Statistics data, looking at every single trip made out of the country by UK citizens, researchers at Practio have been able to forecast the holiday destinations set to benefit the most from reduced travel restrictions.
With traditionally popular European tourist destinations including Spain and France requiring Brits to quarantine for 10 days upon their return, Barbados is in line for a bumper summer with spend from British tourists set to top the forecasted £271,122,898.
On average, sun-starved Brits are expected to spend £1,524 per visit.
Commenting on the research, Dr Jonas Nilsen, managing director and co-founder of Practio said:
“We wanted to pull this exhaustive research together to understand UK travel trends over the past ten years, but also to give us an idea of what this means for travel in the future. Travel was mostly out of the question in 2020 and many of us are hoping for its return later in 2021. By predicting future trends, we can better equip travellers and businesses that thrive off tourism by helping them to prepare for what’s to come and how they can make the most of Brits’ travel habits.
“It’s also been great to see some of the emerging trends and how travel is changing, we’re seeing the go-to destinations start to change with more money being spent in countries further afield, which should be a good sign for the future of the travel industry beyond the pandemic.”
The Barbados Welcome Stamp is a work programme which establishes a visa to allow people to work remotely in Barbados for a maximum of 12 months. The visa is available to anyone who meets the visa requirements and whose work is location independent, whether individuals or families – see Barbados Welcome Stamp FAQs.
It is with regret the government implemented Peter’s idea which has been quickly copied by several countries in the region. To date Peter has not received official recognition from the Barbados government. The refusal by government to give Peter his due is immoral and unethical, take your pick. To rub salt in the wound he was not selected to sit on a face saving panel to come up with a new brand slogan after the Little Island, Big Barbados campaign was jettisoned by Prime Minister Mia Mottley. In the same way the prime minister has intervened in this matter and others before it, she needs to remove this stain from whatever legacy she is building for herself and the country. Also political and NGO voices must speak up for what is right.
We will never know if the reason Mottley shelved the campaign is based on political considerations with an eye on a 2023 general election. What the blogmaster knows is Peter Lawrence Thompson should have been asked to sit on the so-called Destination Reboot Panel. The truth is if he was asked it would be an admission of what is blatantly being denied.
1. Sir Hilary Beckles – Vice Chancellor of the University of the West Indies, historian, Chair.
2. Most Honourable Anthony Gabby Carter.
3. Gayle Talma – hotelier.
4. Renee Coppin – hotelier – Infinity on the Beach and Pirates Inn hotels.
5. Mark Kent – hotelier, Butterfly Beach Hotel.
6. Stedson Red Plastic Bag Wiltshire – entertainment industry professional.
7. Rorrey Fenty – entertainment executive.
8. Dillon Atkinson – hotel worker.
9. Krystal Griffin – hotel worker.
10. Abraham Norville – water sports operator.
11. Tyronne Best – Airport Taxi Association.
12. Josea Browne – Book Barbados.com and formerly from Expedia.com.
13. Aisha Comissiong – creative industry professional.
14. Anthony Walrond – former chairman of the National Cultural Foundation (NCF).
15. Dean Straker – entertainment industry professional.
16. Carol Roberts – CEO, NCF.
17. Andrea Franklin – country manager, Harrison’s Cave.
This week the UK relaxed overseas travel, however, based on a traffic light classification it means UK travellers to Barbados- a country classified AMBER- will have to quarantine for 10 days on return. Based on a BU source hotels and apartments in Barbados have started to receive cancellations.
The Barbados government front loaded its economic recovery strategy by expending significant resources to keep the local tourism industry afloat. The AMBER classification must be accepted for what it is, a body blow. Unless Prime Minister Mia Mottley can do a Houdini tourist traffic for the summer from our most profitable market just went south.
This event now unfolding must cause a critique of the COVID 19 immunization policy. Has the time come for the government through the Chief Medical Officer to authorize private medical facilities to deliver COVID 19 vaccinations? Unless were are able to achieve 70/80% coverage that defines herd immunity, we will not be able to refloat the tourism boat in the near term.
During the current lockdown it’s perhaps an ideal opportunity to reflect on the positives and negatives of an everyday small business and hope that these experiences can benefit us all in the recovery days to come.
While not directly tourism related, any reasonable person has to ponder what on earth was on the minds of the management of one or more ‘local’ banks to increase their charges during the current pandemic, especially when it was abundantly imminent that another lockdown was about to be enacted.
When the majority of customers are already reeling from the effects of dramatically reduced ‘service’ delivery, the closure of branches without any meaningful consultation with the people who fund their operation and being literally forced into migrated online websites, some of which are far from user-friendly.
In our own personal transactions over the last couple of months, the tardy response of at least two different banks that we deal with have caused us substantial monetary losses and hugely increased unnecessary stress.
Even when the particular bank makes obvious mistakes, the procedure often involves lengthy phone calls to remote ‘customer care’ centres and spent precious hours rectifying their problem, all at our expense, in terms of time and resources, without even a hint of an apology or compensation.
Sadly as a country we have grown to accept a diminished level of service from our financial institutions, at least partially due to Government default of debt, giving these organisations little opportunity other than to extract additional revenue from the ‘little people’ to make up that deficit.
What is so alarming is that the overwhelming number of businesses here, both small and large, will critically depend on these lending entities to sustain them until some degree of normality and viability returns.
And with seemingly such detached directors at the top of the management tree, which can only be a logical explanation for the poor levels of service meted out by the lower level of employees, it is difficult to comprehend how many of our private sector entities will survive.
Perhaps the biggest puzzle is why do we tolerate such a general poor level of service, when the majority of these foreign owned banks could not get away with it in their own domains located in the more developed countries?
My first days as a lifetime entrepreneur at the age of 12 years were spent walking door-to-door with a cheap suitcase selling kitchen items to houses in the UK from the monies I earned selling imperfect shirts from stalls in markets like London’s Petticoat Lane.
In the near six decades that have followed, I have desperately tried to understand how bank managers and their employers rationally think and sadly, do not appear to be any closer to comprehending them.
But I do know that unless there is a seismic shift in the way that ‘our’ banks respond to the immediate needs of local small to medium size businesses in the very near future, many of those enterprises will cease to exist by the end of this year.
That will inevitably take a further toll on Government coffers, so perhaps it is now long overdue that the current administration bites the bullet and encourages banking reform.
For readers who are unfamiliar with the name Saga Holidays, it is a British based tour operator with nearly seven decades of experience, specializing in offering over 50 year-old customers or travellers holidays and cruises worldwide. On 21st January the company announced that all clients must be fully vaccinated against Covid-19 at least 14 days before departure on all holidays, tours and cruises, which entails having both a first and secondary jab. The decision was made after conducting a customer poll in which a reported ’95 per cent of regular Saga customers would support such a policy change’.
At first, many may consider this decision quite radical. In reality when they resume both long haul holidays and cruises in May, it is expected that the vast majority of Brits in this age group will have been inoculated against coronavirus anyway. Under the British Government’s plan, 15 million people designated as the fourth highest priority risk vaccination group, including all those in the UK over the age of 70 will have received at least their first shot by the middle of February.
Interestingly, Saga stated that their cruise crew would not need to be vaccinated before working on board and ‘that other protocols would be in place to protect staff until they’re able to receive inoculation’.
Saga Holiday offerings currently features Barbados as one of the three island destinations in their 14 night fly-holiday ‘Jewels of the Caribbean’ programme, which includes a 4 night stay at the Sugar Cane Club with a starting cost of GB Pounds 3,499 per person.
Purely, from a cruise perspective, while some will consider the return of these giant floating self-contained ‘hotels’ another threat to our land based tourism product, could our tourism planners and policymakers use this innovative Saga initiative and vaccination requirement to lure more ships back to our shores this winter? One thing for sure, we will need all the help we can get to restore both volume and connectivity of airlift to anything like previous levels. Home porting of at least one Saga ship would greatly assist that.
Their existing two ocean going ships may already be committed to 2021/22 itineraries, but in these challenging days with widespread scrapping or sale of relatively ‘new’ ships, just maybe there is an opportunity to launch a third vessel dedicated solely to ply the Caribbean for the upcoming winter. Many of our land based visitors have been happy to fly to and from Barbados on 20 plus year old aircraft, so ships of a similar age still have plenty of untapped potential, especially towards targeted consumers.
Despite all the obvious challenges the entire tourism industry currently faces, it will become abundantly clear over the next year that there are still people out there with vision, drive and the ability to see a much bigger picture and will use this time to exploit those opportunities that clearly still exist.
While the words ‘Holiday safety more important than price’ may not bring immediate comfort to our tourism industry and policy planners, it just could be a critical deciding factor in the recovery process, as and when that materializes.
AllClear Travel Insurance which boasts on its website that it is the UK’s most trusted travel insurance provider, holding the coveted Trustpilot customer review 5-star (excellent) rating, recently concluded in a report that British holidaymakers value safety and quality over a cheap deal.
According to Louise Longman, Contributing Editor of the informative online travel trade source TravelMole, ‘the insurance company tracked consumer sentiment towards travel at each pivotal point of the last year – the lockdowns, the tiers and the response to the vaccines – to give forecasts for what the industry will look like in 2021’.
MaruBlue, the customer insights company, conducted the research online at intervals during 2020 – in June, July, November and December with each sample poll representing an audience of 2,000 UK adults.
The conclusions were that safety was a top priority, rather than price, with more than two in five respondents (44%) wanting to visit a country with a good Covid-19 record , while 36% wanting to have the best insurance cover possible, covering them for Covid -19, was top of the agenda.
Our tourism marketing people may wish to also take into account that the over 55 year olds (56%) were more likely to pick a destination based on its perceived Covid-19 safety record, verses 28% of those aged under 34 years.
Interestingly, AllClear found that of those UK adult ‘s surveyed, they were prepared to spend GB Pounds 1,334.82 more than they would usually on their holidays to ensure their trips would be as safe as possible. This rose to GB pounds 1,644.23 for those having pre-existing underlying health issues.
Following the news of a widely available vaccine, more than half of the respondents (55%) stated they would feel comfortable going on holiday again as travelling became a top priority for plans in 2021.
Almost one in two of the respondents believed that the Caribbean would be safe to visit within a year.
The factors that became more important to those considering booking an overseas holiday in the months ahead by percentages, included:
The risk of the country (UK) going back into lockdown (44%)
Social distancing on flights – not getting onto a packed plane (39%)
The state of the health service in the country visited (36%)
The prospect of having to go back into quarantine on return (30%)
Comfort that airports would be safe (29%)
Avoid using public transport (27%)
Good customer reviews online for the safety of the resort (26%)
While consumer polls like these cannot be totally adopted as a ‘holy grail’ for shaping strategies to aid the recovery of our tourism industry, they can offer insightful guidance and a powerful benchmark to ensure we are most cost-effectively reaching our target market.
Will it be about the quantity or the quality, both in terms of numbers and beneficial contribution when cruise ships finally return to Barbados?
Traditionally of course, we usually only see one or maybe two cruise ships arrive weekly during the long summer months, but come November under post pandemic conditions the Bridgetown Port is thriving with a multitude of cruise ships docking with passenger capacities ranging from 150 up to 6,000 persons plus crew.
Last week the world’s largest cruise line, Carnival Corporation reported a net loss of a staggering US$2.2 billion for the fourth quarter of their 2020 financial year. Their website boasts ‘the cruise lines within our portfolio include the most recognised brands in North America, the United Kingdom, Germany, Italy and Australia – areas that account for 85 percent of the world’s cruise passengers’.
Among those brands is Princess, which had no less than seven* of its ships (Grand, Diamond, Coral, Sun, Ruby, Pacific and Regal) involved in serious Covid-19 outbreaks and another two (Emerald and Royal) with suspected cases or given no-sail orders. *source: Wikipedia. Overall, as a consequence of the pandemic, so far Carnival has ‘accelerated the removal of 19, older less efficient ships, 15 of which have already left the fleet’.
To put that in overall perspective, those retired 19 ships represent approximately 13 per cent of pre-pause capacity and three per cent of operating income in 2019. Despite the groups astronomical losses, its chief executive (CEO), Arnold Donald, remains remarkably upbeat , stating ‘2020 has proven to be a true testament to the resilience of our company’.
Adding ‘We took aggressive actions to implement and optimize a complete pause in our guest cruise operations across all brands globally and developed protocols to begin our staggered resumption, first in Italy for our Costa brand, then followed by Germany for our Aida brand’.
‘We are now working diligently towards resuming operations in Asia, Australia, the United Kingdom and United States over the course of 2021’.
‘We are well positioned to capitalize on pent-up demand and to emerge a leaner, more efficient company, reinforcing our industry-leading position’.
At this stage no specific mention of the Caribbean has been made, which for decades has produced their single largest source for sales and passenger numbers, but Mr. Donald is quoted as stating ‘we are working toward having all our ships back in service by the end of the year’.
Clearly, this may encourage our tourism policymakers to plan for the upcoming winter 2021/22 season and to finally evaluate exactly how ‘we’ as a country can justify the massive taxpayer subsidies already spent on our local cruise infrastructure over the past decades, to ensure this ‘investment’ becomes truly cost-effective?
Will the cruise companies remember the overwhelming support given to repatriate passengers and crew during the most challenging times of their entire history, or will this be lost in the wind or stormy seas?
To ensure accuracy, I submitted this column to the media department at Carnival and Princess for any corrections and/or comments prior to submission.
Roger Frizzell, Carnival Corporation’s Senior Vice President and Chief Communications Officer, was gracious enough to respond personally with the following message:
‘We are extremely thankful and greatly appreciative of the assistance and support provided to our cruise lines and crew members during this difficult time’.
In view of the most recent dramatic changes, due to Covid -19 developments, both at home and overseas, is it time to think again about lifting some, if not all of the taxes and levies imposed on our tourism industry, at least until there is some evidence of recovery?
It must be obvious by now that many of our tourism businesses are not going to survive a further prolonged period without some sort of meaningful inducement or relief. Despite all the challenges to the private sector in terms of employment there still remains a large number of salaried people who apparently have little or no possibility of losing their jobs or experiencing lower incomes or reduced working hours, notably public workers.
A reduction in airline taxes was promised several months ago, but so far the secondary added US$35 for flights within Caricom and US$70 for all other destinations is still applied.
A bevy of ‘replacement’ airlines were canvassed and persuaded to introduce Barbados flights on the basis of these assurances, which only subsequently to led to a reduction of planned services, due to the still high intra-Caribbean fares and reduced demand.
Long haul airlines have launched attractive sale prices for early 2021 which means that you can fly from London to Barbados for as little as GB Pounds 324 return for the lowest economy class ticket, but still well over half of that figure is taken up in Government taxes.
As and when travel restrictions are lifted in the United Kingdom and other major markets, inevitably there will be pent up demand, but clearly this is going to be price driven, at least during the initial booking stages.
Of course, Government desperately needs revenue to pay for what many consider a massive oversized civil service, plus its loan and other obligations, but most of us realize that it will be printing money for years to come to cover the true cost of the pandemic. Surely it is better to ensure that our remaining tourism industry is in a fit state to be sufficiently operational when recovery starts to take place?
It is not of course the tourism players who benefit from the lowering or removal of VAT, room and other levies, but the actual consumer.
Some of our hotels and other accommodation offerings have been very proactive with promoting staycations, but is that going to be enough to pay their bills, at least for the next six months?
Ultimately, any Government can only extract taxes in so many ways.
If that means the ultimate point- of-sale cost ceases to be globally competitive, then if those taxes cannot be collected from locals or overseas visitors, it will be forced to find alternative borrowing sources.
After writing this column, almost religiously, every week for over ten years and a tourism specific published contribution for over two decades , the almost overwhelming feeling -under the current pandemic situation with a severe lack of good news -is frankly just to give in and stop until meaningful recovery is in clear sight.
But this would of course be defeatist and pander to an increasingly vocal minority that has for some time preached that we, as a country, have become too dependent on a single sector, while albeit at the same time, proffering no viable alternative.
In their own way though, they have a point and perhaps successive Governments have not placed sufficient priority into ensuring that all other arms of our economy were carried along by tourism and its incredible contribution to the building of our country.
Has the time finally come to better evaluate exactly how we can practically involve more people, goods and services to redress this disproportionate imbalance?
Without wishing to harp on what may appear a microscopic and at first perceived inconsequential tiny issue, I would like to return to the subject of serving imported bottled water at Government convened media conferences, which for me highlighted the need to dramatically increase the use of local products where practical.
During my nearly 60 years involved in tourism, what has stood out above all other observations, from the time while working as a humble demi-chef du rang or trainee waiter in one of Britain’s oldest hotels, to finally fulfilling a lifetimes dream into co-owning and managing a boutique hotel, was attention to detail.
A simple example is that certainly in my experience working across more than 70 countries, you could often tell if a particular hotel had a female manager, just by the display of fresh flowers in public places of the property like washrooms. This is not in anyway intended to be sexiest, just that a good manager instinctively knows what impresses their guests of any gender or disposition.
In our very early days on Barbados, I readily accepted that my wife would be a much better hotel manager than I could ever be, in almost every respect. Her degree of attention to detail, empathy to staff and guests, was way above anything that I could ever consistently achieve and it was born-out by the highest possible level of those returning to stay.
And currently, whatever your political leanings or gender preferences, is it now finally the time for our current national leader, together with her team to take the bold step in ensuring there are more tangible mutually advantageous partnerships between all sectors of our economy and reduce the reliance on foreign exchange requirements?
Or do we choose to ignore, during this uniquely challenging period in our history, by failing to address the obvious disparity between our largest industry and its need for goods, services and supplies?
Traditionally, for years this period between Christmas and New Year the United Kingdom normally experiences the largest level of holiday bookings than at any other time annually. Not this year of course, with our tourism policymakers and planners left to contemplate, what, if anything they can do to bridge the enormous void of visitor arrivals.
It is an unprecedented situation and for those who stand on the side and criticize, proffering what they think could be done, are only frankly second guessing a clearly almost impossible and unpredictable scenario.
What I understand the current guardians of our industry are successfully doing is maintaining the highest possible destination visibility with initiatives like the Welcome Stamp, visits by travel writers, travel agents and the incredible centenarian, Captain Sir Tom Moore, all naturally under carefully managed pandemic compliant conditions.
While, it may seem very optimistic given the current circumstances, I am still going to have a wish list for 2021.
As we emerge from the pandemic, there will be opportunities and some of these may come from those airlines that have survived, downsized and retired their larger, less fuel efficient aircraft. New aircraft like the incredible Airbus A321XLR will come into service and enable long haul routes from various European cities to operate planes which carry around 200 passengers, economically on non-stop services to the Caribbean.
Routes like Dublin or Belfast to Barbados then become less of a risk and given a massive price advantage by not having APD (Advanced Passenger Duty) imposed on the fares, saving at least UK Pounds 80 per passenger in the case of Northern Ireland.
Locally, I believe that a great more could be done with developing smart partnerships between all sectors across tourism and those companies who supply them together with our seemingly reluctant banking sector. As one of the persons deeply involved in creating the first fully functional small hotel alliance, it has been hugely disappointing not to witness more co-operation in this sub-sector, by developing joint promotional initiatives and driving cost savings through collaboration.
And as the cruise industry finally resumes sailings from the Caribbean, perhaps not until the very latter part of 2021, let us look objectively at exactly where we can truly benefit from this sector and justify the investment we have already placed in it.
As always, my thoughts go out to all the dedicated tourism workers and managers that are still employed and have sacrificed their quality family time over this festive period, to give our cherished visitors that holiday of a lifetime.
As we come to the end of another year, for many around the world, probably the most unpredictable of their entire lives, it is perhaps time to reflect, while trying to make sense and possibly attempt to plan for the future.
Even after a working lifetime involved in tourism, like so many others, we simply are not sufficiently qualified to proffer potential solutions post pandemic, but there are past experiences which tell us that until ‘we’ as a nation find any viable alternatives, that it will largely remain the ‘only game in town’.
Looking back 32 years, we can only admit to being extremely naïve when purchasing a closed semi-derelict small hotel on what was perhaps considered then, as one of the less desirable coastlines of the island.
Hindsight is a wonderful thing of course and despite all the odds including a barrage of bureaucracy (that continues to exist three decades later), uncooperative banks, who often simply did not understand what it takes to make businesses work, merchant traders and suppliers not willing to take any credit risks, we grew the business while contributing around $50 million to the local economy, directly or indirectly.
During that time, we employed people, paid their NIS and met every single Government tax and imposition, despite still being owed tens of thousands of confirmed VAT refunds, dating back from as late as 2013.
Was it easy? Absolutely not!
But if you have a vision that you share with a partner, believe in what you are doing and preparing to work 17 hours a day, seven days a week, then ‘success’, in whatever form you consider that word applicable, is possible.
As we now look on under the new owners and their extensive commitment to massive renovations, which have been underway for weeks, we have no doubt they will take the former Peach and Quiet to another level and build on any ‘success’ that we might have achieved in the past.
Clearly acceptable standards and guest expectations change over the years and our former small hotel reaching almost 50 years since construction, desperately needed upgrading.
The new owners with three generations of proven hand-on hotel ownership and management share our vision and have the sheer determination to ensure the re-named property once again reaches the award winning boutique hotel status we enjoyed.
Personally I have no doubt that our tourism sector will rebound and that we will learn valuable lessons from the pandemic.
What will be absolutely critical to its recovery is that those who have the vision and drive to invest in times like this are given all the support and encouragement to ensure this happens.
It is time for some of our banks to revisit their purpose and for our army of civil servants to carefully evaluate how they can contribute to the national interest.
From our personal experience, there are always notable exceptions to the ‘norm’ and our sincere thanks go out to the incredibly positive response we received from all involved recently at the Central Bank of Barbados.
For decades, this week has traditionally marked the start of the critical winter season where visitor arrivals and occupancy soar and when many of our hotels and tourism enterprises achieve their most lucrative rates, which during normal times, significantly contributes to absorbing operational costs during the longer softer summer season.
While the introduction of a Covid-19 vaccine has offered hope for a return to some normality in months to come, it will clearly be some time until visitor numbers return to anything like we have almost taken for granted in years past.
Consolidation of flights from major markets continue with the ongoing disruption this causes to the traveller, hotels and other accommodation options. I would imagine now that our tourism policymakers are now looking very carefully at the demographic make-up of what might become the ‘typical visitor’ to our shores over the next few months, so they can best target any promotional and marketing efforts into appealing to those most likely to travel.
There is a real danger that price may be deemed as the greatest incentive to drive arrival numbers and for many in the tourism sector that could seem the easiest option, if only just to create some vitally needed cash flow and attempt to pay the mounting bills and financial obligations.
This approach seems to have been adopted by the cruise sector, whose major players are currently offering rates as low at US$28 per person per day for sailings set to resume from US ports as early as 1st August 2021. This, while tens of thousands of would be passengers are still awaiting refunds for cancelled cruises over the last eight months.
Ultimately, we all know it will be the taxpayer that picks up the ‘national’ cost of the pandemic. But in the interim, is there anything more that Governments’ can do to speed recovery?
I believe the answer to that is a definite YES!
Despite all the various lobbying, at the least from what has been our largest single market, the United Kingdom, over half the cost of flying on the lowest cost return economy ticket from Gatwick, Heathrow or Manchester is taken up in taxes. First the APD (Air Passenger Duty) amounting to a minimum of GB Pounds 80 rising to a staggering GB Pounds 528 per person for business and first class fares. It is estimated that APD contributed over GB Pounds 3.7 billion to the British Treasury last year.
Secondly, the two departure taxes ‘we’ impose of at least BDS$195 per person for all flights. With the single exception of those wholly within CariCom, that are BDS$70 less.
Government has to decide if it just the private sector who are expected to absorb the significant losses to the entire tourism industry during 2020 and beyond. Or are they going to share that enormous burden to help speed recovery?
I want to return to the subject of implementing a single source website for prospective investors, especially those of a smaller scale, both from overseas and locally. Frankly, even for the most determined and tenacious, investing in Barbados remains a daunting task for virtually everyone when so much could be made easier, less time consuming and completed online.
It starts with the number of Government agencies that you are forced to deal with and in many cases their indeterminate response time. Often the delays lead to some of the required information being out-of-date, before all the requested documentation can be sourced, at any one time.
Facilitation in a timely manner is always important, but during the prolonged pandemic situation, it becomes even more critical, as foreign investors who understandably have become a rarer breed, clearly have multiple destination choices, especially in tourism.
My own thoughts are that every serious investor is granted a unique application online number with defined access, where all involved Government agencies can post verification of information and any other prerequisite requirements. It would also serve as a platform to confirm that ‘duty free’ and/or exemption of import duties, levies and VAT status had been granted to the applicants. This would help expedite customs clearance, construction or renovations, rather than risk costly delays, while the administration ‘considers’ individual or separate requests.
Most investment requires borrowed capital, so the clock starts ticking with interest payable, usually from day one, so any delays negatively affects the viability of the project.
Government has to decide that if ‘we’ really wish to project an investor friendly environment, that radical reform is needed within our existing administration and during this challenging period when many of our public servants are not fully utilized there is the perfect opportunity to effectuate reform and innovation.
It is simply not enough to give the impression that as a country, we welcome with open arms, both foreign and local investment, if the many layers of bureaucracy act as a major deterrent to inspiring entrepreneurs.
Perhaps the first step would be to glean first- hand experience from the people who have already transformed their dream into a business reality and fully evaluate the current impediments.
After all, Government coffers are greatly enhanced from the very moment that an investor commits to a venture through the collection of various taxes and levies on property purchase including stamp duty, transfer tax, non-recoverable VAT on legal and advisory fees etc.
In our particular case, over $400,000 was paid to the state recently for the completion of a sale to new owners.
Perhaps there has never been such an important time in our history to support local small businesses, whether in tourism or any other sector. And regardless of those in the private or public sector, we all have a responsibility, whenever practical and feasible, to follow this objective.
That is why I was so surprised, when yet again, while watching a recent Government convened media conference, which included politicians and public servants at the highest level, together with senior business leaders in the tourism sector, sitting at a head table with bottles of imported Florida water placed in front of them. Especially when you consider, even after a cursory search, we found more than three companies producing local water alternatives. In our personal experience, at least one of them offered highly competitive prices when comparing with imported options.
It seems incomprehensible that an individual or department within the administration has not been charged with the responsibility of sourcing, negotiating and purchasing for Government, as many locally produced products as possible, providing of course, that they not overly costly to the taxpayer?
Our policymakers must surely understand that economic recovery will largely rest on our many small businesses survival and hopefully future growth? Not just in terms of generating employment, but partially relieving the liability of the National Insurance Scheme (NIS), while at the same time creating additional overall tax contributions for Government coffers, reducing foreign imports and FX currency requirements.
Assuming that Government can be persuaded to support local small businesses in a greater degree, perhaps it is also time to resurrect some version of the Buy Bajan promotion that took place years ago, targeted towards the general buying public?
Surely, this is the best way to ensure that as many of our small businesses survive during the current exceptional circumstances and allowing them to slowly re-build for the future?
Of course it would take all those involved in the distribution and point of sale process with the support of financial institutions, media houses offering creative marketing solutions and hopefully the applicable Government Ministry and trade associations playing their part.
And if we need exceptional examples to follow and glean ideas from, there are many impressive models out there. Particularly inspiring is a website Discover Delicious (https://discoverdelicious.wales) whose mission statement boasts ‘Shop delicious, Welsh food, drink and foodie experiences from independent producers and explore the largest collection of Welsh food and drink online – Stay Safe – Shop Local – Support Small’.
In the past few days Governor of the Central Bank Cleviston Haynes and economist Jeremy Stephen provided varying opinions on when the local economy will rebound. Whatever the date, it is crystal clear the primary driver of the economy is tourism and until it returns in force, Barbados will be subject to an unsustainable unemployment rate of over 30%. In both cases the opinions assume the revival of tourism is highly dependent on a drop in cases coupled with vaccine rollout. Not to discount these reasons, in my opinion these are not the greatest barrier which will suppress a tourism rebound in Barbados.
The inconvenient truth is the policy of quarantine on arrival, mandatory testing and a reality of being sent into isolation for 2-3 weeks is the main deterrent preventing the return of tourists. We have been told that this policy has kept Barbados “safe”. The underlying assumption of this policy being that even one case of Covid is too many. However, the reality is although vaccines are on the horizon there will never be an eradication of Covid, it is endemic. Vaccinated people will catch and spread Covid, as they do Influenza. Government and tourism leaders need to gaze into the mirror and decide what is a realistic goal with managing Covid? The one case is too many mantra is not sustainable and economically foolhardy.
Does Barbados plan on quarantining, testing and isolating travellers for the rest of time? If one case of Covid is too many, why is one case of Influenza not too many? Both are considered lethal pathogens to vulnerable people. Regarding tourism, by mid February there will be 200 million or more UK, USA and Canadian residents who will have either had Covid or been immunized. These people will return to travel with the force of a tsunami. During this US Thanksgiving weekend Americans are travelling in record numbers even with dire warnings from their CDC. Tourists will search for warm weather destinations in the USA, Caribbean and Latin America.
When they search, they will discover Mexico, Colombia, Costa Rica, Florida, Brazil and Jamaica have no Covid entry requirements at all. The rest of the Caribbean has the requirement of a negative PCR test from 3-10 days old depending on country. In fact, the only nations that test tourists on arrival with the threat of isolation are Bermuda, Barbados and Cuba.
Travellers will have many options, does one believe that your average traveller will choose to get a pre flight PCR test, quarantine for 3 days in Barbados and then take another PCR test, or will he decide to fly to Negril hassle free. Customers will always choose the path of least resistance when all else is equal. When it comes to a 10-day getaway on a beach in Antigua, Cancun, Cartagena or Barbados it is equal, thus the decision making will come down to the Covid hassle/barrier provided by each country.
Air Canada flights already show the effect of Barbados Covid rules. Air Canada has resumed a full schedule of daily flights to Cancun, Puerto Vallarta and Cabo San Lucas, whereas Barbados receives 2 flights a week, reduced from the previous daily flights.
The Barbados government should be transparent and truthful to the citizenry regarding future plans for the management of Covid. If it will be the current zero Covid policy then Bajans can prepare and plan for the economy they currently are surviving in. If changes are being undertaken, they need to be enacted rapidly. Tourist agencies are already stating they are receiving a bonanza of enquiries for early 2021 vacations. I firmly believe without changes Barbados tourism will wallow in its current darkness forever.
Just a week away from celebrating our 54th year of independence and probably the very last year that any citizen will be recognized for their outstanding national contribution locally, by being granted (Order of Barbados) Knight (KA) or Dame (DA) status, after Government has decided to remove Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II as head of state and presumably her representative here.
Considering the massive transformational effect tourism has made in the development of the country over the last five decades, some may find it surprising that not a single person within the industry, over that period, has been sufficiently identified and chosen to receive the highest honour, unlike in some other neighbouring islands.
Perhaps it reflects the often expressed general cynicism directed at the sector, that each and every hotelier is a money grabbing, subsidy opportunist, extracting limitless concessions and who expects Government to constantly bail them out, even when even tiniest challenge is put in their way.
While this may be vaguely true for a tiny number of chosen few, as a former small hotelier, operating for over 25 years, I can tell you that perception is so far from reality that it bears absolutely no actual creditability at all, for the vast majority of us.
I graphically recall our very first attempt to bring in ‘duty-free’ a special paint for extreme salt spray exposed surfaces. The duties and charges levied locally were more than twice the cost of the goods and shipping. Despite that, we paid the taxes in full, only to discover when collecting the paint from a ‘secure’ customs bond, that more than a third of the product had been stolen. When then asking if we could amend our duty payment to the revised amount of goods received, we were told NO and that we had to apply for a refund which in the words of the then comptroller, could take up to between one and two years.
After, that early experience, we virtually gave up on even going through the motions of attempting to buy ‘duty-free’ items for the hotel, as the barrage of obstacles placed in our way, were just too tedious and mentally overpowering to surmount.
Returning to the point of this column, I hope that one day that some of the very many dedicated professionals, at every level, will be recognised for their tireless efforts, once again. Not limited to only those promoting Barbados tourism, but fully embracing everyone who provides personal service delivery, to each and every guest.
As and when the pandemic issue is resolved, it is going to be even more critical to the sector’s recovery that ‘we’ provide the very best welcome to both returning and first time visitors. As a country, when we continually fail to value the selfless contribution made by so many, we are losing track and the purpose of what makes tourism and a destination successful.
There can be no reasonable doubt that the 12 month Barbados Welcome Stamp initiative has brought the destination an almost unparalleled level of media and public awareness and kudos to all those involved in its conception and ongoing content enhancement.
Amongst, the latest exposure is the planned Lion Television Scotland 60 minute documentary, which in their words, will ‘follow adventurous British families and individuals as they take an almighty plunge and relocate in the middle of a global pandemic, to work remotely from Barbados’.
According to the news release ‘the documentary will follow millennial Ashley, who only needs his laptop to work as a 3D digital animator, young family Kris and Brigitta and their three children who have been enrolled in a local school and Steve and Amanda. Amanda has recently retired and plans to get to know the island and its locals, while Steve works remotely for a pharmaceutical company’.
When filmed and edited the show will be aired on the UK’s Channel 4.
Popular shows on this channel, like Celebrity Bake Off have recently attracted overnight audiences of 4.4 million and Googlebox, a television reality series, 4.9 million. Interestingly, the TV Station reported, following extensive research, they have recorded up to a 38 per cent year-on-year growth to the number of 16 to 34 year olds tuning into the channel, bucking past trends. This at a time, when many conclude, that younger demographics are almost exclusively sourcing information and entertainment through other social media options.
Jo Street, Channel 4’s Head of Daytime and Head of Hub, Glasgow, who oversees the UK wide daytime commissioning team, said ‘Welcome to Barbados will bring audiences some much needed sunshine and give them the chance to escape the harsh realities of 2020, whilst dreaming about life in a hammock, on the beach… Now where do I get my Visa’?
This sort of extensive coverage can only impact positively on a destination, while helping drive additional long term visitors. Each of these so-called ‘digital nomads’ of course requires somewhere to stay, a rented apartment, house or villa. They all have to eat, whether shopping in supermarkets or dining at our myriad of eating establishments, possibly hire a car on a long term basis, whilst paying their fair share of taxes to Government. It has to be a win-win for everyone.
Since the Barbados Welcome Stamp was launched it has been expanded to offer a number of goods and services of particular interest to visa applicants, to make temporary relocation less challenging.
Hopefully all our tourism partners will fully evaluate the potential of this new market source and target their particular product by offering added special concessions and discounts. After all, they are beneficially piggy- backing onto this pioneering proven concept that has not cost the individual sector players a single cent in promotional costs.
While there have been a very few notable exceptions, I believe there is a great deal more our local based companies could do to ‘smart partner’ and create joint promotions to help stimulate our tourism economy.
Those exceptions include one of our banks offering cash back on credit card usage which accumulates during the year and eventually paid back to individual’s accounts each November. Recently a leading wine merchant partnered with a popular south coast restaurant on its re-opening and during an entire month offered a small discount with a complimentary glass of sparkling wine to encourage local bookings.
Despite the most recently announced potentially devastating 32 day non-essential travel lockdown from our main market, the United Kingdom, our Government has steadfastly chosen not to stimulate domestic tourism through fiscal incentives or any other clearly obvious measures, leaving many of our restaurants and ancillary tourism services floundering for survival on their own in apparent discarded isolation.
For some of us, the rationale, or lack of it, is almost impossible to understand.
While any reduction in direct taxation, like the lowering or removal of VAT (Value Added Tax) or more recently imposed additional levies have some inevitable miniscule consequences for the administration, what is the alternative?
If the population at-large do not spend their available funds, then clearly other negative factors will kick-in.
These include loss of employment, business failure and inability to collect other statutory obligations like NIS contributions, land taxes and the VAT payable on certain utilities, supplies and services.
Similarly, if private sector suppliers are not replenishing our hospitality sector at optimal levels, then they in turn suffer possible ramifications, or in the very least will suffer a much longer road to recovery.
Simple examples could include a wine-of-the month, where specific vintners support local distributors to proffer a particular product, which in turn gives the consumer an attractive price across our restaurants, while at the same time increase brand awareness. Other possibilities include notable ice cream manufacturers wishing to grow market share could also follow suit.
None of this is rocket science of course and all it takes is a little creativity and medium to long term vision. It also represents a minimal risk for all involved, at negligible actual cost to those participating.
While one particular bank has been mentioned, others should also play their part. Few credit cardholders could possibly ignore the virtually obscene interest rates for late statement payment hovering around the low to mid- twenty plus percent’s, especially unconscionable during our current economic challenges.
Sadly, there appears to be no effective consumer banking regulation since Governments debt default, so once again, the public is expected to pick up the loss of anticipated profits through higher interest rates and increased fees. This, while experiencing a further reduction, or in some cases, an almost total absence of service delivery and when branches are being closed without any consultation and thousands of customers disadvantaged.
Located in the middle of the Indian Ocean, the Maldives has claimed that it will become the first destination in the world to offer points when they launch their Maldives Border Miles campaign on 1st December 2020.
An archipelago of 1,192 coral islands grouped into 26 natural atolls spanning roughly 115 square miles, is the smallest Asian country by land area and population, with around 516,000 inhabitants located south-west of Sri Lanka and India and around 430 miles from the Asian continent.
It is a three-tiered loyalty programme for visitors who will earn points based on the number of visits and duration of stay. Additional points will be awarded for visits to celebrate special occasions. Arrival numbers issued by the Government indicated that the Maldives welcomed around 1.7 million visitors in 2019, up from 1.4 million in 2018.
In some respects the Maldives promotion has many similarities to the MILESCloser initiative we launched nearly twenty years ago, when Barbados was largely perceived as a destination a little further away from many of our competing islands, making it slightly more difficult and expensive to reach. At that time the miles or points required to fly to Barbados were the same, whether travelling (as an example) from California or New York, which at a stroke, took away any price differential deterrent.
Those two decades ago we also suggested to our policymakers that MILESCloser was taken a step further, by introducing a unique single destination branded credit card, in concert with VISA or MasterCard, where holders would gain points or miles to travel to Barbados and stay. This would apply to purchases and payments made irrespectively, whether in the visitors home country or while on holiday in Barbados. And while on island that same card would earn additional points and special discounts at any number of participating tourism partners including hotels, villas, other accommodation options, car rental, restaurants, shopping, attractions and activities etc. Any number of added benefits could be included for people using this proposed card to enhance the desirability and usage, including: pre-registered fast-track immigration clearance, airport/lodging transfers, room upgrades, use of airport lounge and preferred aircraft boarding.
The simple rationale was to enable that cherished guest the economic means to return to Barbados as inexpensively and hassle-free as possible, while building loyalty to the destination. Sadly, the concept was not seriously adopted and again perhaps we have partially lost-out to other competing tourism offerings that chose to seize the opportunities, when presented to them.
Clearly, the Maldives, another largely tourism dependent territory, feels that the new loyalty programme could play an important role in the slow recovery of their vital hospitality sector.
Just over two months ago (10th August), I questioned the wisdom of granting four airlines either new to Barbados or restoring previous services, permission to operate inter-Caribbean routes, presumably to help soak up any loss created by the failure of LIAT (1974) Ltd.
What was even more surprising is that all four carriers responded positively to the invitation before the reduction in the current crippling airline taxes promised by our leaders many months ago.
With all three (Canada, United States and United Kingdom) of our major markets now considered high risk and a recent poll conducted in the UK at the end of September, indicating that only 11 per cent of adults who participated in the survey were planning to travel internationally in the next six months.
The question comes back to the same one posed before, why are we not at least targeting lower risk areas like the announced Caricom Caribbean Community Travel Bubble arrangement , that was slated to be in effect by 18th September?
With carefully crafted hotel/flight inclusive packages, this would at least give some hope to the beleaguered airlines, several of which are fighting for their mere existence.
The ‘Bubble’ was agreed to at an emergency session meeting of the Caricom heads of Government on11th September at which they acknowledged ‘that the past six months have been a very challenging period globally and regionally, as countries have struggled to cope with the effects of the novel coronavirus’.
Noting ‘that for Caricom, it had been particularly difficult, given the high dependence in most of the economies on the travel and tourism sectors’.
The Government heads originally agreed that travellers from countries within the Bubble will be allowed entry without being subjected to PCR (Polymerase Chain Reaction) testing prior to arrival and would also not have to undergo quarantine restrictions.
Sadly last week (10th October), the Daily Observer (reported that Antigua’s Minister of Information, Melford Nicholas had advised that this had been revised and ‘it was decided that a negative PCR test will nowhave to be presented’, creating further doubt and confusion.
Travellers may however be subjected to screening on arrival and on the condition and must confirm they did not transit or travel to a high-risk country, either 14 or 21 days preceding arrival, the duration depending on which advisory you read.
Are we back to the same old stumbling block, the inability to follow-through and implement cross regional policies, in anything approaching a timely manner?
The outcome is that already some of these enticed carriers are starting to cancel scheduled and advertised services, as there is simply not sufficient demand to sustain four additional airlines at this time.
Could that demand, at least partially, be created with innovative marketing strategies and more affordable airfares?
Despite all the current challenges, according to news agency Reuters,
San Francisco based home sharing giant, Airbnb, is scheduled to launch an Initial Public Offering (IPO) possibly in this December.
Pundits have widely speculated that it could achieve a company valuation of more than a mind boggling US$30 billion, citing the justification was to take ‘advantage of the unexpected sharp recovery in its business after the Covid-19 pandemic roiled the travel industry’.
If the prediction materializes, it will become one of the largest and most anticipated of all U.S. stock market listings during 2020.
The company said in July ‘that customers had booked more than 1 million nights in a single day for the first time since 3rd March’.
Vrbo, one of Airbnb’s biggest competitors, owned by travel conglomerate, Expedia Group, appeared to confirm this optimism, by reporting that they had returned to bookings growth in June.
Therefore now may be an opportune time for Airbnb to access the public capital it most likely ‘desperately needs’, while investors may be enticed to buy the IPO based on improving trends.
Airbnb’s chief executive officer, Brian Chesky, has publicly stated ‘we’re going to keep our options open’ regarding the listing, despite writing a letter to employees in May ‘that its business had been hard-hit and revenue for the year was expected to be less than half of what the company earned in 2019’.
Announcing at the same time that Airbnb was letting go nearly 1,900 staff members or a quarter of its workforce worldwide.
No-one can doubt the phenomenal growth of Airbnb from its humble origins in 2007 when the initial three partners rented out a spare apartment loft space with inflatable air mattresses serving as beds, until it currently boasts representation in 191 countries across the globe.
Quite remarkable when you consider the United Nations lists of total of 193 member states worldwide.
Speculation has remained rife for years on what the overall Airbnb influence, negative or positive, has been on the traditional hotel and other accommodation sectors across all major markets.
The much respected Smith Travel Research performed a study across 13 global markets and their conclusion may have surprising reading for some.
Airbnb occupancy was the highest in markets where hotels had high occupancy.
Hotel occupancy was significantly higher than Airbnb occupancy.
Airbnb guests typically stayed longer than the average hotel guest, with roughly half of Airbnb room nights coming from trips of seven nights or longer.
Airbnb’ share of business travel was substantially smaller than its share of leisure travel.
Hotel average daily rates (ADR) were generally higher than Airbnb rates.
Experts commonly agree that any real comparison is viewed a bit like apples and oranges, but if you look across our region, despite the emergence of Airbnb, annual average hotel occupancy has remained fairly stagnant for a decade.
This is, perhaps, an area where a great deal more evaluation is needed and while our Government has the use of a greatly underutilized abundance of salaried civil servants, they may consider it a suitable time to research and produce more accurate local results that could prove invaluable in effective marketing strategies.
Last week the global communications agency, Finn Partners, released a fascinating, well researched and insightful report, entitled Domestic Tourism-Recovery Starts at Home, which highlights 25 of the world’s most innovative and creative campaigns that show how domestic tourism is helping destinations recover until international travel substantially returns.
In their words ‘As travel restrictions around the world remain in flux, the impact of the global pandemic on tourism and hospitality continues to weigh heavily’, while ‘domestic tourism is returning faster than international tourism and is proving to be the critical lifeline for the global travel industry’s recovery’.
While a concerted national domestic tourism campaign is clearly not the sole answer to Barbados’s challenges, it is a critical integral part of the solution until some sort of controlled normality returns. As well as seeking to entice the substantial percentage of the population who have not been economically significantly affected by the pandemic, including tens of thousands of Government workers, it also gives some sort of positive assurance to the hundreds of small businesses trying to hang-on until meaningful overseas visitor arrivals return.
It begs the question, are we really all in this together?
So far, our single largest generator of foreign currency and employment has not received any financial relief, many of which were already under severe fiscal pressure, even before Covid-19. The promised reduction, months ago, in airfare taxes has not yet taken place, despite our policymaker’s success in enticing other airlines to fill the LIAT gap within the region and the establishment of a ‘safe’ travel bubble between certain regional territories.
State owned Trinidad and Tobago subsidized Caribbean Airlines (CAL) recently announced cost-cutting measures that will include the temporary trimming of staff by 33 per cent and the reduction of salaries brings home that it is not just major international carriers that are fighting for their very existence. The inevitable consequence will be a further reduction in route frequency and loss of seat availability.
While CAL’s job losses, temporary or otherwise, may seem almost paltry when compared with airline giants across the globe, we have to bear in mind that at least four of the largest carriers that currently service Barbados, (American, British Airways, Virgin Atlantic and the Lufthansa Group will have collectively cut over 104,000 jobs by the end of this month.
Contrary to a minority view across some uninformed industry observers, tax reduction is not yet another perceived way of propping up our tourism industry. Rather it is a manageable tactical tool for making what is often accepted as a largely overpriced product, more affordable to locals, residents and attracting first time visitors.
Unless Government has a master-plan, yet to be revealed, with an objective to resurrect the many failed tourism partners who have already bitten-the-dust, or may do shortly. We have to learn to work with what we have and what is here and now.
Interesting to see that Jamaica recently launched another major tourism initiative branded ‘Rediscover Jamaica’.
They clearly feel, as another largely tourism dependent nation, that there still remains a significantly large enough employed or financially independent section of the population to validate such a programme.
Speaking at the official launch, Minister of Tourism, the Hon. Edmund Bartlett urged persons to take full advantage of the deals that are being provided under the campaign.
Adding, ‘This is not a knee-jerk reaction because of COVID, because we started staycation years ago. We might not have moved it with the energy that we should, but this is a moment when the psychosocial impact of COVID is taking its toll, so we need a release and the wonderful products are all there, the glories of our culture awaiting us. Let’s go out, rediscover Jamaica, enjoy the summer and be safe’ he said.
Director of Tourism, Donovan White, noted ‘that more than 100 tourism partners are offering discounts and products to Jamaicans, so they can enjoy the tourism product’.
Whatever, their justification, it makes sense by involving as many ‘locals’ as possible who will derive an overall better understanding of the industry, post Covid-19.
It must be apparently obvious by now, that our policymakers and planners have little or no control over the seemingly endless movement of the travel goal posts in our major markets.
The latest restrictive ‘adjustments’ implemented in the United Kingdom last week, expected to last for as long as six months, highlighted that fact and ‘we’ can only hope to modify our response to events plainly beyond our direct control.
While Barbados currently does not have a comparable national offering, the re-DISCOVER restaurant initiative, founded back in 2002 is again gathering momentum with new dining establishments joining or re-joining weekly.
It is also encouraging that a number of our hotels are promoting Barbadian special stays at attractive prices and that certain attractions and activities are once again beginning to address the local market that clearly are not at the mercy of the airlines to reach us.
Andromeda Botanical Gardens for instance have opened their doors to locals, completely free of charge, initially for a limited period.
I also hope that our taxi drivers will take full advantage of this generous offer to enhance their island tours when visitor arrival numbers eventually return.
This approach will take us a step closer to ensure that every resident becomes an ambassador for tourism, which until someone finds a comparable alternative, still largely pays the nation’s bills.
Just how important will pricing be in the recovery of tourism to Barbados?
What prompted this question came about after scanning through holiday package offerings that are currently available and advertised in our principal markets.
Standing out was an offer from a major British tour operator, highlighted by a company called Holiday Pirates, which included return British Airways economy class flights from Gatwick to Barbados with one checked and one cabin bag, 7 nights at a named ‘3-star’ south- coast hotel with daily breakfast for GB Pounds 697 per person, based on two sharing room for departures in October.
After extensive searches through many online flight only comparative websites, it was impossible to find any fares which included at least one checked suitcase for under GB Pounds 400 return to Barbados.
While tour operators traditionally negotiate ‘special’ ITX (inclusive tour) fares from the airlines, it seems highly unlikely that these could possibly fall below the GB Pounds 400 mark, especially as recently pointed out, that over half of this amount is made up of Government taxes.
So just for moment, let’s assume the tour operator is actually paying around GB Pounds 400 per return flight. That’s leaves a tiny GB Pounds 297 to cover 7 night’s hotel accommodation, breakfast and any taxes (VAT) not paid separately in room levies by the actual guests.
Clearly there also has to be a profit element within the retail price for the tour operator to economically function, but let’s ignore that for a moment.
Based on current Sterling/US$ exchange rates, that leaves a microscopic US$54.72 per person per night to cover the hotel room, VAT and breakfast cost.
Can this possibly be sustainable, even if we assume that the majority of this property’s rooms are not filled at this low rate?
This particular hotel may consider that the only way they can fill their almost 100 rooms is by granting large tour operator allocations at heavily discounted rates.
But, clearly this figure is not even remotely close to what is required in the medium to long term across our entire hotel offerings, to ensure economic viability returns to the sector?
Especially when many hotels are still owed considerable amounts of money for stays completed, prior to the pandemic, by the travel trade.
While at the same time thousands of holidaymakers are still trying to extract due refunds on cancelled flights and packages, making it highly unlikely that they will use the same booking method again, anytime soon.
On a far more positive note, it was very encouraging to see one of our leading wine merchants, partner with a popular Christ Church restaurant which has recently re-opened its doors, by offering a complimentary glass of Prosecco and a 5% discount on lunch or dinner bookings until the end of this month.
To me it’s a win-win situation for all involved and I hope that other companies will follow this encouraging example.
While sadly, domestic tourism has been largely ignored so far by our policymakers, there still remains a staunch core of locals, both corporate and individuals, together with second-home overseas residents, whose numbers can make a significant difference to the resurgence of our restaurants.
Mounting pressure is being brought by airlines and the United Kingdom travel trade onto the British Government to suspend, lower the rate or eliminate the Air Passenger Duty(APD), often referred to as ‘the highest rate of tax in the world on air passengers’. A statement from the UK Treasury has confirmed that a consultation on aviation tax reform would take place and hinted that APD could be suspended in the autumn budget amid increasing pressure to provide respite for airlines and the wider industry.
According to the Daily Mail, ‘at least 24 Members of Parliament (MP’s), including the chairman of the influential 1922 committee, Sir Graham Brady, are pressing chancellor Rishi Sunak to suspend APD until the end of summer 2021’. A suspension would allow airlines to entice holidaymakers with cheaper fares and save many of the 600 air routes lost as a result of the pandemic. MP Henry Smith, whose constituency includes London’s second airport, Gatwick, stated that ‘if we maintain our levels of air passenger duty, it will become a tax on recovery, as flying is the only viable route for investors and business people to approach and service existing markets’. The UK and Ireland Managing Director of Travel giant TUI, Andrew Flintham, warned ‘that many companies would not survive unless the current blunt approach was changed ‘ adding ‘if we enter the winter season without sensible solutions, the outlook only gets worse’.
Quite frankly, it defies logic, that our policymakers have not seen fit to temporarily reduce or eliminate the not one, but two, departure taxes plus VAT (Value Added Tax) on air tickets, together with removing the various additional tourism taxes and levies imposed before or from October 2018.
Looking at the cost of airfares from the UK to Barbados during this November as an example, where the lowest priced return economy ticket can still be purchased for as little GB Pounds 374. Over half (52 per cent) of that amount is made-up in taxes inflicted by both Governments. The APD element starts at GB Pounds 80 per person and the UK passenger service charge of GB Pounds 40.87. For the Barbados section, what Virgin Atlantic describes as Airport Service Charge of GB Pounds 52.70 plus a further Passenger Service Charge International of GB Pounds 20.70
So it does not take a rocket scientist to figure out what a massive difference a reduction in these add-on opportunist taxes could make in people’s economic ability to travel to our shores. The rationale is endlessly obvious. If you deter potential visitors in the first place by extracting high levels of taxation, then you obviously cannot collect further taxes on their accommodation, car rental, restaurant dining, shopping, activities, attractions, and so on.
While airlines across the globe are grounding hundreds of aircraft, slashing thousands of employees and fighting for their very survival, it seems almost incomprehensible that Governments are still extracting over half the cost of airfares in taxes.
The decision made by Virgin Atlantic to re-position their Barbados flights to Heathrow from Gatwick and the recent announcement by British Airways that they will restore a daily flight from London’s first airport from 17th October is a very positive move towards any form of tourism arrival normality from the United Kingdom to our shores, in more ways than one.
The airport is currently undergoing trials involving ‘three systems of outbound Covid-19 testing including a nasal or throat swab test which provides results in 30 minutes, a saliva test which gives a visual result in 10 minutes and a self- administered test that works within 30 seconds’.
These are in addition to the airport’s paid-for inbound testing facility, which is awaiting British Government’s clearance.
According to an airport spokesperson ‘the long-term aim of the trial is to understand whether these tests could be quickly and efficiently conducted on large numbers of people outside of a laboratory setting and to ensure they are accurate enough to be delivered in an airport environment’.
Heathrow’s Chief Executive Officer, John Holland-Kaye added ‘if we can find a test that is accurate, gets results within a matter of minutes, is cost-effective and gets the government green light, we could have the potential to introduce wide-scale testing at the airport’.
Another major plus for Heathrow is the rapidly improving train links.
Our policymakers often overlook that for the vast majority of our visitors, their journey does not start at the airport. They have to get there first, often leaving home close to the dead-of-night to allow for reasonable check-in and security time, in many cases.
While the massive Crossrail project has been further delayed, new type 345 trains with nine carriages that are fully air-conditioned are already fully operational from all the functioning Heathrow terminals, with up to 9 trains per hour to/from Central London and major connecting train terminals and beyond.
The increased capacity, frequency and enhanced ventilation will substantially improve the possibility of effective social distancing and further reduce the fear of virus infection.
A third compelling reason why Heathrow outshines way above other British airports is connectivity, both from an internal domestic UK and worldwide perspective.
Certainly up until the end of 2019, according to OAG (Official Airline Guide), a leading global travel data provider, the Heathrow mega hub was the world’s most internationally connected airport for the third straight year.
‘On the busiest day in aviation during that year an incredible 65,000 connections were possible within a six hour window’.
Frankfurt was second, followed by Chicago O’Hare, Amsterdam and Munich, in that order.
This gives us the strongest possibility of enticing continental Europeans onto seamless connections to both British Airways B777 -200 and Virgin Atlantic’s B787-9 Dreamliner nonstop flights to Barbados.
A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about the British Government’s Eat Out to Help Out promotion that initially was being offered on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays from 3rd through to the 31st August.
Almost a week before ‘last orders’ under the offer is due to expire, over 64 million meals have already been served at more than 50,000 restaurants, pubs and other eating establishments across the United Kingdom.
So far, there have been 34 million searches by 13 million unique users on the official Eat Out to Help Out restaurant finder which uses postcodes to locate participating eateries in any given area.
Not surprisingly, many in the catering industry and trade associations are now calling for a further one month extension, taking it through September, before the employee furlough subsidy is scheduled to end in October.
Kate Nicholls, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of UK Hospitality, which represents pubs and restaurants throughout England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland stated ‘the scheme has been a huge success for the sector. Our members have been reporting a very-welcome boost in trade, when it was needed most’. Adding ‘the scheme has not just benefited businesses commercially it appears to have really boosted consumer confidence as well, which is just as important’.
While the following observations may go down badly in certain circles, we seem to be constantly reading various utterings about the need to restructure the entire tourism industry on Barbados. Yet few, if any, policies appear to have been put in place to stimulate the sector, in which ‘we’ place so much reliance on now? I can only conclude that those proffering advice on restructuring do not really understand our industry and their immediate needs, which could result in a devastating consequence for any hope of its survival in the short to middle term.
Restructuring does not take place overnight in any sector and in our case, what does it really mean anyway?
Demolishing scores of existing hotels, villas, apartments and the hundreds of extra rooms created by small independent owners that have been persuaded to provide them for rental, through companies like Airbnb?
And what about the various proposed new-build accommodation projects that have yet to show significant progress?
This will be my final impassioned plea to Government to consider launching a national domestic tourism initiative that would be supported, not just by the tourism partners, but by all elements of the private sector that have a vested interest, including food and beverage suppliers, wholesalers and financial service providers that embraced credit and debit card issuers.
Even a low-cost ‘ad’ campaign through local social media and radio might just make a significant enough difference to keeping some of our ‘make or break’ restaurants open and staff employed. Failing to introduce such an incentive into Barbados later than September will run the plausible risk that many of our tourism entities will simply not survive intact until there are real signs of fiscal recovery later this year or into 2021.
Otherwise the danger is that the much vaunted discussion on restructuring will quickly turn into a major plan for possible rebuilding, and that could realistically take decades.
This week’s column marks a personal milestone, 520 weekly or ten years submissions amounting to around 260,000 words and entirely dedicated to a single subject, tourism.
The objective was never to suggest that there is any one particular ‘holy grail’ solution to the challenges that continually face the industry, either in good times, let alone the unprecedented demanding current period, but more to throw out questions and ideas that may encourage our decision makers to take all possible considerations into account, before formulating policies.
In my humble view, the single biggest present obstacle standing in the way of short to medium tourism recovery is the perceived or real lack of travel confidence in all our traditional markets.
Potential visitors are still reticent to sit on a plane for up to nine hours until they are absolutely sure, there is little or no risk of being infected by Covid-19.
Until mandatory pre-flight testing is a universal requirement, whatever we do at a local level is going to be at least partially negatively impacted.
Secondly, rumours abound across the social media arena that at least one or more major tour operators have cancelled all previously booked package holidays to Barbados for the rest of this year.
Attempts to seek clarification from those companies regrettably have met with no response and until they make it absolutely clear that this is not the case, speculation will linger.
We must also move away, at least for the next few months, from our dependency of being primarily a travel trade driven destination.
A higher percentage of direct bookings could well aid economic recovery, both at an individual property and national level.
A whole combination of events has led to an all-time low in the travelling public’s confidence and trust in sections of the operator and airline companies.
These include the ongoing delay in refunding holidays and flights booked prior to the pandemic, particular tour operators who have delayed payment to hotels and other accommodation providers for stays already completed and continued uncertainty regarding the restoration of airlift.
The return of British Airways on a daily Heathrow service is very encouraging from October, but incredibly disappointing, that it appears, neither of the two involved Governments have lowered or eliminated excessive taxes on the fares, including the United Kingdom Advanced Passenger Duty (APD) plus both VAT and not one but two departure taxes in the case of Barbados.
Of course, ‘we’ have not been told about any possible taxpayer seat subsidies that the airline may have negotiated, to ensure viable capacity, so this may have some bearing on ‘our’ Government’s decision.
One day, our policymakers will have to finally realize that there are only just so many ways you can extract taxes from potential visitors, even in ‘normal’ times, let alone during a prolonged recession across all major markets.
If price deters people travelling to a certain destination, then Government clearly cannot collect VAT, room and all the other levies on a stay that does not actually takes place.
Our population is not naïve enough to understand that post Pandemic they are going to have to pay for all the measures that have been put in place during Covid-19 through increased tax collection.
But let us not cook the golden goose before they even reach here.
By the end of this month the British Government will have a somewhat more accurate idea of just how successful their Eat Out to Help Out scheme has been in sustaining businesses and protecting employment.
From 3rd until 31st August on every Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday (traditionally the quieter dining days), Brits can get a 50 per cent discount, up to a maximum of GB Pounds 10 per person, when you eat-in at one of the over 83,000 restaurants that have so far registered.
Usage does not require a voucher, can be used as many times as you like and is combinable with other available offers and discounts.
There is no minimum spend.
The discount cannot be claimed on alcoholic drinks or service charges and is automatically available at all participating establishments, which include restaurants, cafes, pubs, food halls, work and school canteens, who in-turn are reimbursed by the Government.
Consumers can easily find those that have already signed-up, within a 5 mile radius of their residence, simply by entering their postcode.
The United Kingdom HM Revenue and Customs stated that it had received over 10.5 million claims under the scheme up until 9th August with the average claim for around GB Pounds 5, which would until this date, bring the cost of this initiative to around GB Pounds 50 million.
British Chancellor Rishi Sunak reported ‘the scheme has served a huge 25 per cent increase in people going out’ and that GB Pounds 500 million has been put aside to pick up the bills for diners who patronize restaurants during the 13 eligible days in August.
This following the slashing of VAT rates from 20 to 5 per cent for all hospitality and tourism businesses until 12th January 2021.
Over 90 of the leading restaurant chains throughout the UK have signed up to offer this deal with most of the major brand names, applying substantial resources to ensure public awareness.
Will Beckett, co-founder of the Hawksmoor steakhouse group reported ‘that six of his restaurants had received a combined 15,000 bookings for the 13 days’ period.
Our policymakers have resisted so far, any obvious attempt to stimulate domestic tourism, for whatever reason.
Perhaps it is time to rethink this approach?
September, ‘normally’ one of the most challenging months of the year is just days away, while we continue to experience an increasing number of our restaurants announcing permanent closure.
For many of them it is truly heartbreaking, having spent in some cases decades, building their business.
From feedback, those closing mostly admit they can no longer sustain survival locally, citing the inability to continue paying rent, utility bills, land taxes or await further delays in the repayment of outstanding VAT refunds.
It is very encouraging to witness a bevy of regional carriers that have already announced or plan to operate or extend flights to and from Barbados including Inter-Caribbean Airlines, Air Antilles, Caribbean Airlines and One Caribbean among others.
Sadly though, not all of them have seemingly promoted the routes, times and fares in sufficient time to ensure there is a reasonable possibility that flights will operate to economic capacity.
Another concern is that several Caribbean leaders have called for a reduction in the deterrent add-on taxes, that Government’s actually imposed previously, but the carriers are still waiting to know what will replace them and at what chargeable levels. This could, of course, dramatically determine the final fare, drive demand and give the operating carriers some hope of reaching viability on these services.
A quick check for instance, on the websites of Air Antilles, One Caribbean, Inter-Caribbean and Caribbean Airlines, where all four have opted to fly the Barbados /St. Lucia route, indicate that the cost of the lowest priced return flights varied by as much as 80 per cent.
Caribbean Airlines – US$276 (taxes included but not specified),
Air Antilles – at US$208 (taxes included but not specified).
Time will tell if there really is the capacity to sustain four or more airlines between these two destinations, at least in the short to middle term and whether price will determine their long term sustainability.
Sadly, search engine sites like GOOGLE Flights are not yet functional within this region, so it’s a fairly laborious process comparing each carrier’s price offerings, making effective marketing even more critical to capture market share.
I also hope that all these airlines will partner with travel agents, tour operators and tourism trade representative bodies, to offer hotel/flight inclusive options.
From my limited time working as a largely unpaid consultant at Carib Express, within three months, our Escape program generated over 22 per cent of the entire airlines turnover. While the airline eventually failed, largely through poor management decisions, Escape clearly demonstrated the market for affordable intra-Caribbean breaks.
From this initiative the very first annual event entirely dedicated to growing intra-regional travel was born and for 8 years the re-DISCOVER the Caribbean Show went on to bring millions of dollars of additional year-round business and hotel occupancy to Barbados.
While the Caribbean generally is perceived as a relatively Covid-19 free zone, this opportunity cannot go un-served, especially until a time, when we achieve anything close to the recovery of airlift from other major markets.
Perhaps this is the perfect scenario for implementing the much discussed travel bubble concept, allowing people to travel within the territories which have demonstrated the unequivocal ability to manage and control the pandemic at minimum risk?
Prior to the submission of this column, each named airlines was emailed and asked to comment and correct any of the information that it contained.
During the last 31 years whilst residing on Barbados and an overall total of 50 years since actively promoting the destination, I have witnessed many Ministers of Tourism come and go. Many, far more informed persons, will judge their individual contribution to the overall betterment of the industry and any lasting legacy they personally have left.
I sincerely wish the new Minister all the very best in the world during these unprecedented challenging times and let no-one labour under the illusion that any single person can remedy or return our tourism offerings to anything close to normality in the short term.
For me, two past Minister of Tourism’s stand out in the crowd, the late Sir Harold St. John and Peter Morgan. For the simple reason, that they both had the amazing ability of patience to listen to all persons, at every level, within the industry. This did not necessarily translate that they would incorporate ideas proffered by those people, but the mere fact they felt included, made all the difference.
They both also returned phone calls and/or messages, leaving even the seemingly lowest level of tourism worker feeling that their contribution was important. I earnestly hope that this level of response returns to the Ministry of Tourism, especially now that it probably has the largest number of staff employed during its entire history.
When in 1989 we purchased the then derelict Arawak Inn, Sir Harold was a frequent visitor, giving us incredible encouragement, even at a time when his family’s property was a direct competitor located just half-a-mile away. Since then, Ministerial visits have been a rarity.
Over the last few years the lodging economic landscape has dramatically changed with the two largest hotel groupings now being foreign owned. This will of course significantly affect how they both respond to the current Covid-19 pandemic, being able to source capital offshore at considerably more competitive interest rates to assist them through the recovery period.
Our indigenous hotels and other accommodation providers on the other hand, will have to continue their battle with the banks authorized to operate on-island, subject to existing lending terms, which are almost impossible to meet during current times.
We too, also have to realize that there are certain integral component parts of tourism that cannot be directly controlled, like airlift. Until infection numbers substantially reduce in our key markets and people regain the confidence to travel, we can only implement policies that re-assure any potential visitors, that everything possible to protect them locally, has been put in place.
While Government has done an extraordinary job in limiting the local damage of Coronavirus, we are still fighting the perception of risk, compounded by the economic realities of higher unemployment and depleted earned incomes from our source markets.
Other countries have turned to stimulating domestic tourism to partially soften the blow and mitigate the loss of jobs. ‘We’ have so far chosen not to and time will tell if this was a wise decision.
Like I would imagine, along with thousands of other small businesses we have spent the last four months trying to find creative ways of meeting our financial obligations, without any source of earned income. Where possible we have deferred actual payments to essential services by using credit cards, but there eventually remains a day of reckoning
Our bank has ceased to issue and mail printed statements, while at the same time making it almost impossible without additional cost, to produce them online. From the last physical document received, it shows interest rates of 22.5 per cent annually for purchases and a staggering 25 per cent for cash advances. Under the current dire economic circumstances and considering the miserly interest paid on deposits, this appears to be an almost obscene scenario, when in many cases the banks have dramatically reduced services offered while maintaining pre-Covid-19 monthly service fees.
In some cases certain banks have also unilaterally closed branches, forcing thousands of regular customers to travel to often inconvenient locations, only to be met by staffing levels clearly unable to cope with demand.
Should we reasonably expect more?
With the majority of our banks forced into accepting substantial ‘haircuts’, perhaps the Government feels they have no moral authority to intervene?
While the financial institutes may counter by stating they have deferred loan and overdraft payments, have interest rates been reduced to allow many small enterprises to even stand a chance of survival, let alone recovery?
In our own case, we are completely up-to-date with all Government dues payable by us, but are still owed tens of thousands of Dollars in outstanding VAT refunds dating back from February 2013. To compensate for this deficit we were forced to take a short term unsecured bank loan at 12.25 per cent annual interest. As and when and if we finally receive these monies, will the administration and its agencies add compensation to cover this added cost?
One thing for certain, is that with no immediate end in sight into anything approaching the return to normality of the restoration of airlift in terms of arrival numbers, we cannot simply rely on our overseas market to stop many small tourism players going out of business.
There still remains a substantial domestic market and while many will argue that this source is also under enormous fiscal pressure, it may currently be the only game in town. Once again, I make an passionate plea for Government to consider waiving some of the overbearing taxes levied on this industry, at least in the short term, so that when recovery is finally imaginable, we at least have sufficient players still in business.
While a handful of hotels on Barbados have been very proactive in reaching out to locals and residents for Staycation options at attractive rates, despite some recent discussion, there appears no national initiative driving this important tactic to help the path of tourism recovery.
Perhaps equally discouraging is that our banks and financial institutions seem to be unaware of the potential to grow credit and debit card usage by offering enhanced cash back incentives to promote local tourism, which in themselves are self-funding.
What is abundantly obvious is that many would-be overseas visitors are delaying future booking, until some sort of normality returns to definite flight possibilities, rather than again risk going through the prolonged refund process that thousands are still trying to extract for previously confirmed flights and holidays.
Obviously, it is largely out of our control to secure airlift in the current ever changing circumstances from traditional markets, until infection rates are significantly reduced or eliminated, and the general public has the confidence to travel again.
The LIAT debacle has virtually ruled out welcoming back any possible early return of significant numbers of intra Caribbean visitors, despite the relatively low risk of Covid-19 spread within the region.
Many also find it difficult to understand how Governments, over decades, have ploughed hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars into supporting the airline, only now to see it liquidated with all the consequences that brings to those involved.
Therefore simply put, perhaps the only meaningful source of business which presently remains, is the domestic market.It is not just about our accommodation providers, but across the entire sector.
From my feedback, people are questioning if Government sincerely wishes to avoid further closures of tourism partners and enable these businesses to re-open and protect employment, that the administration has to play their part in removing room levies and VAT (value added tax), at least in the short term.
The British Government obviously considered this policy was critical to aiding the hospitality industry recovery in the United Kingdom by announcing days ago the lowering of the VAT rate from 20 to 5 per cent until January 2021on restaurants, pubs and other leisure outlets and introduction of specially priced meals, rather like our 19 year old re-DISCOVER initiative.
Ultimately there are so many ways Government can wrest taxes and if those businesses remain closed and unable to meet their financial obligations, then clearly, they cannot contribute to national recovery.
While, thankfully, one closed restaurant was recently re-opened, under new ownership, no mention has been made of several others that have already been forced to close their doors ‘indefinitely’, resulting in the loss of dozens of jobs. This closure trend will inevitably continue unless some corrective measures are put into place urgently.
Over the last years ‘we’ have spent a fortune rightly boasting we are the culinary Capital of the Caribbean. Let us now, not lose this hard earned reputation, simply by failing to respond to the immediate needs of those who have made it possible.
We are already half way through what will result in many cases, both locally and around the world as one, if not the most difficult years in living memory.
Frankly I have been disappointed that we have not witnessed more creative thinking and action among the wealth of tourism professionals, who reside and derive their main income from the sector in our country. While it’s almost impossible to compare our position with that of larger neighbours, sparks of ingenuity emerge from abroad.
Take the US state of Arizona as an example. Republican Senator Martha McSally introduced legislation that would enable Americans to deduct domestic travel expenses, which include lodging on their tax returns for the next three years. The American TRIP act would provide a US$4,000 travel credit for individuals and US$8,000 for joint filers, plus an additional US$500 credit for dependent children.
Justifying the concept, Senator McSally, (a former United States Air Force Colonel, the first US women to fly in combat and command a fighter squadron) pointed out that travel and hospitality has one of the nation’s highest unemployment rates because of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Adding ‘Arizona has lost billions in revenue this year alone due to the pandemic’ and ‘my legislation will help boost domestic travel and jump-start the comeback of our hotels, entertainment sectors and local tourism agencies’.
I am not, for one second, suggesting that we attempt to adopt identical legislation, but it should open up our minds, that there are alternative ways of re-opening our tourism economy, rather than totally depending on overseas visitors, with all the challenges that entails. This form of tax credit could appeal to those who are still in meaningful employment and who have disposable income.
Another way may be to lift the recently imposed room levy and temporarily remove the VAT (value added tax) that is applied to accommodation and the latter on dining, at least until some sort of measured recovery takes place.
While Government will be clearly focused on tax collection to reduce the burden of further debt which has been compounded by Covid-19, it’s long term objective may be to ensure as many businesses as possible avoid bankruptcy and return to profitability in the middle to long term, ultimately making them subject to corporation and all the additional taxes that viability and full employment brings.
Some may reasonably argue that the current timing is not right, but when will it ever more likely to be?
Are ‘we’ going to wait until more businesses are shuttered and beyond realistic recovery?
Surely now, while ‘we’ still have the time, to finally implement the long promised duty-free concessions right across the tourism sector.
It cannot be right or proper that a single entity still extracts unique trading advantages, especially when we consider the fact that most of its derived income stays offshore.
If levelling the playing-field has any real meaning to those who have taken the greatest risk and ploughed almost, if not everything, into their country, let it be clearly demonstrated and raised as a beacon to encourage further local investment.
With cruises slated to return to the Caribbean from November, after what must be perceived as one of the biggest public relations catastrophes in the history of tourism, is there any way that we, here on Barbados or throughout the region, can gain a far more equitable share of the past profits and revenues this sector has generated in years to come?
According to ALG- Global, the number of cruise passengers has increased by more than 60 per cent over the last 10 years, reaching a 28.5 million throughput in 2018. Out of these, 40 per cent of the passengers are concentrated in the Caribbean market, which is the single highest market in the entire cruise sector.
The Florida-Caribbean Cruise Association, state that North America accounts for around 12 million of departing cruise ship passengers annually.
This despite the fact remains that the overwhelming majority of ships which ply the Caribbean Sea are not registered under the US flag, therefore not subject to US employment laws, covering among many others things, minimum wages and labour laws. As an example, industry brand giants Royal Caribbean’s corporate domicile is in Liberia and Carnival’s, Panama, despite being headquartered in the United States.
Many would agree that Barbados has done an extraordinary job of permitting dozens of cruise ships to anchor-off our shores eventually discharging thousands of crew members before allowing them to fly home, when other islands and some mainland ports have denied that dispensation and compassion.
Will those humanitarian concessions be taken in to account when cruise ship itineraries are being scheduled and marketed for late 2020 and 2021 or will ‘our’ reach-out be forgotten in the quest of returning to profitability?
Clearly we, as a country, have clearly demonstrated ‘our’ ability’ to handle large numbers of persons joining or leaving, even the largest capacity vessels presently afloat.
Following the trauma of Covid-19, future cruise ship passengers will inevitably consider this as a critical booking factor before selecting a particular Caribbean itinerary, to avoid being stranded at sea for an indeterminate time, should a similar or food based virus re-occur.
Increased Home-porting could also play a critical role in airlift recovery, allowing some airlines to sell any unsold cruise passenger seats to long stay visitors, increasing the fiscal benefit to the destination.
There also remains the unresolved inequity between the contribution made by the land based and cruise sectors. ‘Our’ ability to repatriate the sea farers was largely created by our land-based partners, whose payment of taxes provided the infrastructure to make it possible.
If there is ever going to be a balance of a level playing field, Government must re-visit the subject of disparity in taxation. Currently there is no VAT on cruise packages and the individual passenger charges currently levied do not in any way compensate for the national investment already made which supports this sector. Our land based tourism partners are subject to corporation tax, income tax, national insurance, VAT, land taxes, room levies and a bevy of other impositions, which cruise operators totally avoid.
Hopefully, all these considerations will be in the minds of our policymakers, as and when the cruise ships return.
As the covid-19 outbreak begins to subside and countries start to reopen, the big questions for hoteliers on island destinations are:
How will my clients get to the destination? Which airlines will survive and continue to fly and under what conditions?
News reports state that clients in major countries no longer trust travel agents/tour operators to book their holidays as many did not or would not repay deposits and payments made by consumers.
The answer to the first is simply to wait and see as many large airlines are in deep financial crisis.
However if I were an hotelier I would take a strategic approach and to the second try to get as many clients as possible to book directly with me when the airlines begin to fly. Below are some suggestions.
Ensure that your website is updated with large and beautiful pictures of my property and make sure that clients can book and pay online without problems. Moreover, in the first year I would offer a convenient and liberal approach to booking changes and/or cancellations. If your website is not modern, I would suggest getting a new one. Today you can get this done for not more than USD 500. Follow the trends and see to it that your site is picturesque, choose a server that is 99.9% reliable and please check constantly for any broken links.
Having designed many websites with over 280 pages per site I am knowledgeable of what is necessary and where one can find the best IT companies to produce them. In addition, sites must be created for easy Search Engine Optimization (SEO) as this is far cheaper than Pay per click (PPC) marketing.
Social media is the cheapest form of marketing today and should be used extensively. A great way to attract interest is short stories, videos, news of your hotel or destination, interesting recipes, competitions etc The more you post, the better it is for you.
Facebook: I would see to it that my Facebook page is relevant and also use data from my old hotel registration cards and set up a Facebook advertising account to target my potential clientele.
Instagram: The same policy as Facebook but also put out as many pictures of the hotel as possible interlaced with pictures of the destination and local tourism related hashtags to influence people to my pages.
Note that this is an excellent time for young entrepreneurs who are wizards with social media to create a business by selling their services to the hotel industry. All they need is a smart phone.
Clients who are researching travel and come across your hotel, want to contact the hotel in advance with any questions they may have. PLEASE! Do not only list a reservation email. See to it that you have another email for queries and ensure that you reply promptly to their mails. The best is to use Facetime, Skype, Zoom, Whatsapp or other video services. They are free and in this time of clients wanting answers immediately, you will win. A client sitting in their office or at home in Manhattan, Boston, London or Stuttgart and being able to contact you immediately online at no cost – is GOLD.
The most frustrating thing about many small hotels is that some of them never put prices on their site but want clients to book anyhow. If you would put yourself in a client’s shoes, you then would ask yourself if you would do this. If not you, why them?
When it comes to prices, forget your competition and do what is best for you. Put your prices out and make creative offers by adding consumer value to your prices. For example if clients book directly, you can offer them for example – return airport transfers or a 3 course dinner or an island tour or a round of golf. In the slow months offer more.
Create a niche
If you do a search for Barbados Hotels on Google, Tripadvisor and booking.com lists the 10 top hotels in Barbados or the best hotels in Barbados or all inclusive hotels in Barbados. If you are too small to rate in these categories why not create your own niche with a website title like “The best personal service – Barbados” or “On the best beach in Barbados” or “Best value in Barbados” or “Stay & play, sea & sun – Barbados” or “Best Barbados holiday” or “Best couples hotel – Barbados” or “More than just a family hotel – Barbados” or “Singles welcome – Barbados” or “Best honeymoon hotel – Barbados” .
Plant a flower for Barbados! Stay with us and bring seeds from your favourite flower and plant them. We will put your name on a plaque, nurture the plant and send you pictures as it grows. The island will love it and you can do a small part for the environment. When you return, we will add your picture with the flower to our Facebook page.
Clients from Europe who travel to the Caribbean usually awake early as they have not acclimatized as yet since as the Caribbean is 5 to 6 hours behind their home time. In most cases the hotel restaurants open from 7 am. A well appreciated gesture is to offer coffee/tea and freshly baked local pastries from 5 am in the lobby.
Finally, training! Take this opportunity to train your staff to ensure that they provide 110% service for clients. The next few months/years will be tough and it is important that guests not only feel welcome at your hotel but feel a bond to the hotel and staff.
Once a client books, keep in touch. Make them feel that they are important to you.
Be warned though. Ask before sending anything. One hotel learned the hard way after they sent a postcard to Mr & Mrs Smith thanking them for their stay that Mrs Smith knew nothing about the trip. It turned out that it was not the wife who travelled but the secretary!
As more and more tourism businesses indicate they are re-opening, hopefully over the next few weeks, our policymakers and planners will instigate a single source reference website or other social media platform to combat the mass confusion and speculation as to when our industry is ready and able to host locals and overseas visitors.
Meanwhile, potential arrivals are left to navigate a bewildering source of what, in many cases, turns out to be misinformation or at least misleading. Especially relevant when you bear in mind the overwhelming majority of people do not book flights at a day or two’s notice and cannot necessarily choose holiday dates at short notice.
Of course, it all comes down to safety and most reasonable people can fully understand Government’s reluctance to commit to specific dates before every possible precaution preventing the further spread of Covid-19 is put in place. And this even more reinforces the essential need to implement a single reliable source for the latest factual information covering every aspect of our tourism offering.
What is also disappointing is that there appears to be no unified regional plan to re-open Caribbean islands to the world. A recent statement issued by LIAT to the Leeward Islands Airline Pilots Association indicated ‘the need to extend the temporary layoff of its pilots for three months’. Adding that, it was still awaiting further shareholder funding or subsidies and ‘these funds continue to be delayed’.
Even allowing for the differential in available medical and testing facilities, every territory seems to be doing its ‘own thing’ in terms of accommodation and airlift. Perhaps, many may question whether bodies like the Caribbean Tourism Organisation (CTO) could have played a greater role in recovery and if we can ever seriously contemplate marketing the region under one umbrella.
The CTO rightly could cite limited financial resources at this difficult time as a major issue for not being more collectively proactive, but there is always something positive that can be done with the combined talents and knowledge available.
Naturally, each island state has its own priorities in terms of economic recovery, the survival of businesses and restoring employment, but surely a greater degree of unity when negotiating the return of airlines and standard safety protocol could be agreed?
There also remains the sticky subject of taxation. In the case of Barbados, since October 2019 the imposition of a bevy of new taxes and levies has virtually negated Government from any significant fiscal contribution to marketing the destination. Throughout the duration of lockdown this valuable source has virtually dried-up and while the operating expenses that include staff salaries and premium location premises, both at home and overseas of the Barbados Tourism Marketing Inc., and its associated agencies have remained, clearly there must have been some significant savings in advertising and airlift support.
When flights eventually return, will the administration look again at the level of taxation imposed on airfares which includes Value Added Tax (VAT) and two departure taxes, among others, to aid recovery?
We should remember that our traditional sources markets have all experienced loss or depletion of earned income and unprecedented levels of unemployment for a sustained period and that will inevitably impact on destination choice.
If there has ever been a time when tourism partners sharing the same sub-sector have needed to work together in the national recovery interest, it is now!
A couple of weeks ago I suggested to our national marketing agency that a short video be produced from the existing library of incredible images highlighting our amazing choice of restaurants and dining options.
The ‘theme’ would be ‘Did you miss us?’
The video could be aired, without any significant cost, through all available social media outlets and travel partners, to remind both locals, second home owners, together with returning visitors of what we have been capable of providing, year after year, under ‘normal’ circumstances.
A similar exercise may easily be done with our car rental suppliers without necessarily giving prominence to the merits of any particular company.
Most renters do not, of course, base their booking decision on the make or model of vehicle, but what the car can offer them in flexibility to explore the island, visit attractions, activities and sample the myriad of eating out choices and equally important, providing added value and experiences.
Several years ago we persuaded, for the first time ever, three of the largest villa rental agencies to jointly create a full page ‘ad’ that was placed in one of the leading travel magazines. The individual cost to each company for exclusive sole participation was difficult to justify, but collectively sharing the expense three ways, made it a whole different story, giving readers previously unknown choices, as whom to contact and search for their chosen property.
While highly targeted strictly print advertisements have fallen out of favour against the more recent electronic media alternatives, I still believe it can play a critical part in overall marketing, especially if carefully monitored for response and cost-effectiveness.
We also used this concept to launch the first fully functional small hotel group called Barbados Treasures. Each of the original five member hotels offered an identically priced package that included reduced rate car rental, a choice of attractions and an out-of-hotel dinner option. It became one of the best-selling offers available at that time and significantly increased average occupancy in each of the partner properties.
There are countless other examples of why working together makes economic sense, while building awareness of the destination and growing each participating business. It just takes resolve and commitment from sufficient big-picture people with a common objective to make the idea work.
One thing for sure, as tourism recovery inevitably takes place, despite the naysaying utterings of the pundits and doubters, every industry provider will be vying to seek out what they perceive as their fair market share. They will then be faced with attempts to do this alone in isolation, or learning to work as a team, to greatly increase the likelihood of overall success.
It would appear that our citizens and residents will first have the option of travelling within the Caribbean, as and when Coronavirus restrictions are lifted.
As we are now in the traditional prolonged softer summer season, it also appears to be more logical that our tourism planners and policymakers will focus, at least part of their efforts on promoting this opportunity.
As airlift possibilities within the region are extremely limited and LIAT has so far indicated they will not resume commercial passenger services until at least 30th June 2020, here again comes the crunch.
As we have witnessed for decades, LIAT has drifted through various degrees of cash flow crisis, management turmoil and insolvency issues, seemingly unable to survive without massive taxpayer support. At the same time, most Governments within the region have increasingly levied what many consider deterrent taxes and surcharges on their airline ticket prices, making it cheaper, in many cases, to fly to Canada or the United States.
So if we, as a country, or other states within the region are remotely hoping that Intra-Caribbean travel will at least lead the charge in returning to some sort of normality in arrivals numbers, then the status quo will have to change. Our Government will have to weigh-up the fact that if people cannot be enticed to our shores, that they will not collect VAT and other taxes on hotel or other accommodation, rental cars, restaurant dining, shopping, attractions and activities etc, for those visits.
The predicament for the administration will be if they really wish our crushed tourism industry to recover in the least possible time, will they forgo at least some of the multiple taxes currently applied?
Of course, it’s not just about returning tourism to viability, but restoring employment to an acceptable level in the foreseeable future, with the additional taxes and national insurance contributions that brings.
According to recent reports the World Bank has approved loans of US$159 million for a series of Caribbean Regional Air Transport connectivity projects. This included concessionary financing of $13 million for Dominica, US$17 million for Grenada and US$45 million for St. Lucia with a maturity of 40 years including a grace period of 10 years ‘to improve regional capacity’ and ‘facilitate connectivity and support countries during the COVID-19 recovery phase’.
Will these incredibly generous borrowing terms, at least partially relieve financial pressures on these Governments and enable them to reduce airport and departure taxes?
Airline pundits have also been calling for radical reforms of LIAT over the last decade or more and for a company that has been so reliant on taxpayer’s monies for almost an eternity it seems almost incredulous that their accounts have not been made public for 40 years.
Perhaps this is the opportunity to finally restructure the company, without regional political interference preventing the installation of management that could ensure its long term viability and survival. Unless this happens, just the concept of developing the true potential of intra-Caribbean travel and restoring past arrival numbers will remain a distant pipe dream.
All early indications are that at least one positive thing will come out of a post COVID 19 crisis for our tourism industry. So many regular visitors have been confronted, frustrated and generally challenged by the battle to secure refunds from airlines, online travel companies and tour operators, that I believe will result in a massive trend to book directly next time, largely eliminating the intermediaries from the process.
ABTA, the British travel association, while issuing guidance to its members, many companies have ignored this advice and dictated their own rules in terms of cash refunds and credit vouchers relating to monies pre-paid in good faith for flights and holidays yet to be taken.
This has left UK consumers questioning the relevance of the organization in their eyes and driven many to seek alternative recompense through their credit card issuers and Small Claims Court. Essential reading for anyone considering booking a future holiday will be the Which Publication Report on the performance of travel firms and airlines in respect to the time taken in refunding.
Several of the same tour operators have, for want of a kinder term, threatened hotels with deferred payments devoid of interest, for stays already completed, fully aware that many accommodation providers are already fighting for economic survival.
To fight back some of our hotels have been very proactive by offering vouchers directly to guests which can be redeemed for future stays. An example is to buy a voucher at this time for say US$100, which will have an actual enhanced redemption value of US$115 or even US$125 towards a room for a chosen forward date, yet to be decided. This makes sense in a number of ways and can be a win-win for all involved. The hotel could help reduce any borrowings they have incurred during these difficult times and therefore interest payable, while at the same time, attracting a higher percentage of direct bookings.
These will then not be subject to the substantial rack rate discounts the tour operators extract, which are often in the region of 30 or even 40 per cent off published room prices.
The guests will benefit by receiving added-value, obtaining a product which would normally cost, considerably more.
Those individuals, who may worry about the viability of the supplier (hotel or villa), can choose to pay by credit card, which has in many cases, the prospect of both earning miles towards their flight, while giving added financial protection in the case of not receiving the service as advertised.
Our regular return arrivals may also consider that the quickest way they can help restore their favourite holiday spot back to recovery, is to ensure that every very possible dollar and cent finds its way to Barbados.
This well could be a better all-round solution than risking, in many cases, further limited savings, which remain offshore for a prolonged period in the bank account of some intermediary that still owes its customers and accommodation providers, tens of millions of dollars.
One of the greatest challenges for the entire tourism industry post Coronavirus, in my humble opinion, will be the subject of credibility in the eyes of the consumer or traveller. Almost every day, often conflicting announcements, regarding the status of when ‘we’ are able to fly and from where, seem to hit the headlines.
Virgin Atlantic has stated that Barbados bound flights from London will only operate from Heathrow airport and this was highlighted in an advertised summer 2021seat sale launched on 16th May. A cursory glance at their website show fare levels substantially higher than available in previous years for similar periods.
In a recent Forbes article, British Airways (BA) told staff that ‘flights at London Gatwick may not resume in an extreme scenario’ while at the same time also reporting massive redundancies involving 12,000 staff including 1,130 captains and first officers or 26 per cent of all pilots.
However, highly competitive fares for the beginning of 2021 from Gatwick to Barbados are presently bookable on the BA site, so mixed messages creating confusion. British Airways currently hold 51 per cent of the take-off and landing slots at Heathrow and Virgin Atlantic only 4 per cent. So if Virgin are planning to transfer many routes from Gatwick to Heathrow, taking that capacity with them, where are the ‘slots’ or take-off and landing positions going to come from?
Recently, Air New Zealand sold a slot pair at Heathrow for a quoted US$27 million and while there will be inevitable airline failure during this crisis any additional slots that become available will still fetch premium prices.
Prior to Covid-19, Heathrow averaged one flight landing or take-off every 90 seconds on each of its two runways or around 470,000 flights per year. Bearing in mind a night jet ban operates from 11.30 pm until 04.30 am. For travellers living north of London and using public transport to reach the airport, Heathrow will become a much more attractive alternative, once the new Elizabeth Line is fully open with its faster air-conditioned trains linking to major rail stations in the capital.
The importance of raising these and other questions now, during this continued period of speculation and doubt, is to allow our visitors, both returnees and potential first time arrivals, the maximum possible time to plan a holiday to our shores.
We are now just a week away from when two of our largest hotels, jointly with over 550 rooms, announced that they are going to re-open. Many are left to wonder exactly which flights are going to fill these properties, with no apparent national policy on the restoration of airlift and questions over quarantine requirements.
I am pretty sure this is all under discussion at the highest level, but everyone involved needs to know exactly what is going on, if we stand any chance of a speedy tourism recovery. The other area that needs urgent attention are the thousands of holidaymaker’s still awaiting refunds, either from the airlines, travel agents or tour operators.
Until their monies are returned without further delay, they are certainly not going to have the confidence to book another future flight or travel package with the prospect of putting additional funds at risk.
We all know the story of Sam Lord. The world’s second oldest known con artist. The first one was William Chaloner (1650 – 1699): A serial counterfeiter and confidence trickster proven guilty by Sir Isaac Newton.
Below is a shortened version of his story.
Samuel Hall Lord, also called “Sam Lord” (1778 – 5 November 1844) was one of the most famous buccaneers on the island of Barbados. Sam Lord as he was usually known, amassed great wealth for his castle-mansion in Barbados. He did this through the direct plundering of ships stranded in the coral reefs just off the coast of his estate.
According to legend, Sam Lord would hang lanterns high in the coconut trees around his estate. Passing ships far out at sea would think it was the port city of Bridgetown and would sail towards the reef in the area, leading them to wreck their ships. Sam Lord would then board the ships and keep the riches for his castle, which stood in the parish of Saint Philip. [Source Wikipedia]
I submit that we can we take this historical fact and expand upon it. In other words why not create a viable interest in travelling to Barbados to find Sam Lord’s treasure?
We can stimulate attention on social media by suggesting that the treasure has never been found and as the old castle is being renovated, now is the time to come and explore the island and look for it before it disappears. An app can be designed that gives clues to the treasure and visitors can travel around the island looking for it. On downloading and registering, the app will give participants a clue which will give directions to a possible location. When they find this location, the site will have a GPS locator which will register in the app and will then unlock a new clue. Note that the person must stand exactly in a specific location to get the app to unlock.
After the first location is registered it gives the participants a souvenir or drink (sponsored). To cut a long story short, the clues should be tough and the maximum number of clues should be no more than 10. The prize (treasure) should be USD 25.000 (any eventual taxes to be paid by the participants). Once found, the next time that it is run, the prize should be USD 35.000. The time after USD 45.000 etc
Some things to consider.
No other island had Sam Lord. As he was unique to Barbados. Let us use him to our benefit.
As this will be based on wideband usage, a smart phone will be necessary and there will be a fee to register. This fee will include a local SIM card with XXX data.
A sponsored digital map should be created (open for all) showing locations of bars, rum shops, restaurants in each parish that provide food/drink, clean restrooms, parking and free WiFi. These locations should be encouraged to niche what they offer clients. For example 3 of them may specialize on fish/seafood. 3 others on local Bajan food with panache while others on local sweets and/or bakery products.
Spin off high end souvenirs with a Sam Lord’s treasure logo should be created like – brass lanterns, smart phone cases, golf head covers, ceramic place settings etc
I am certain that the island has many creative persons who can run with this and make the concept even better.
Will the traditional model of largely being a tour operator dependent tourism destination dramatically change – as we know it – after the end of the Coronavirus crisis?
What prompted these thoughts were the widespread reporting of the huge amounts of monies still owed to our hotel and lodging sector, despite the guests having already been hosted and returned to their homes.
Simply put, the respective tour operators have been paid in full by the guests/clients, almost always, many months prior to arrival ‘to be held in trust for payment to hotels shortly after the delivery of the service’. But in thousands of cases the hotel or villa has yet to be recompensed.
All associated costs, with those guests stay, have of course been spent or committed to ensure there was in fact accommodation ready on arrival and was maintained during their stay. The outstanding exception perhaps, could be the VAT (Valued Added Tax) and room levies, which may be still owed to Government.
Frank Comito, CEO and Director General of the Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association (CHTA) has called on international tour operators which have delayed paying hotels for services delivered to the operators’ clients as early as January to expedite payment to avoid the collapse of some Caribbean properties.
In a letter to major trade organisations representing the bulk of tour operators that do business with the Caribbean, ‘Comito stated that 69 per cent of hotels report that they have not been receiving timely reimbursements from tour operators to services provided during the first quarter of 2020’.
Adding ‘the average amount owed to hotels by tour operators is US$219,000 per hotel, with a number of hotels reporting outstanding amounts in excess of US$1 million and one hotel being out-of-pocket US$15 million’.
Equally alarming is that several of the largest travel companies have ‘asked’, or perhaps better described as demanded, delayed payment terms with as little as 25 per cent of the amounts owing being paid within the foreseeable future, followed by further interest free stage increments over the remainder of the year.
We were tour operators for 12 years in the United Kingdom, immediately prior to our acquisition and operation of a small hotel on Barbados. After renovations and opening, we initially decided that was the preferred method of filling our property. For the first four years, we courted and accommodated clients from some of the biggest British travel companies. While, negotiating the next year’s discounted rack rates and room allocation, each using their competitive might to further drive down prices, to the point where we just said, this is simply not working for us. Ultimately there was barely any ‘profit’ remaining to help maintain the condition of the hotel, let alone enhance it.
We then systematically initiated a direct booking policy, which worked for us, with a 95 per cent plus conversion ratio and close to 100 per cent occupancy for at least six months of the year. Having just 22 rooms, that course was realistic and achievable, but with 100 or more, the reliance on operator and/or travel agent bookings becomes more critical.
Our larger hotels will now have to decide what degree of desperation exists when they are negotiating any new contracts and whether payment terms have to be severely revised that include the provision for forward deposit payment to secure the most competitive terms.
The fears of many progressives that Caribbean leaders will not embrace a new economic path post COVID -19, are slowly surfacing. While we support the current efforts in the fight against COVID-19, we must admit that as the region returns to state of normalcy or what is being branded the “new norm”, there will be nothing new about their economic management.
There is a collective pandering to the same institutions and backward policies that are essentially stagnating growth. We therefore expect the status quo to remain entrenched and we predict that we will witness blatant attempts, to apply the finishing touches to the death of trade unionism. The commanding heights of our economies will continue to be dominated by whites, Asians, and other minorities both local and expatriate. The relentless quest for wealth will continue and many poor Black Caribbean citizens, will be expected to carry the burden.
These hopelessly backward and visionless leaders are once more placing almost all their eggs in the tourist industry basket. They have quickly forgotten how rapidly and comprehensively the tourist industry collapsed as the vicious COVID-19 spread throughout the world. They are hell bent on cajoling with a good servant but a bad master and the vacant air and seaports resembling ghost cities, put fear r in their timid hearts.
The agricultural and manufacturing sectors have been ruthlessly abandoned and in some countries golf courses, marinas and multimillion-dollar homes have replaced anything resembling food crops. The islands are essentially for sale and in some territories, citizenship can be bought to boost foreign exchange levels. The worst kept secret in some islands, is the fact that three generations of white plantation owners have no interest in agriculture. They have destroyed some economies and are in cahoots with some high-flying politicians who live above their means and find themselves in the pocket of corporate marauders.
Against this background of leadership sycophancy, the MCG, has no choice other than to call on progressive forces to blunt this socio-economic destruction. We can no longer limit ourselves to pseudo intellectual mumbo jumbo while our brothers and sisters, in some cases, work for less than $150 USD per week.
We note that some leaders are forced to eat humble pie as they slip into bed with known corporate pirates. Our distinguished head of the University of the West Indies finds himself begging the same corporate elites that he once vehemently castigated. We watch in awe as one leader a once considered a Marxist, finds himself at the center of unsavory acts unbefitting his tremendous intellect and academic brilliance. And another leader finds herself embracing a rich white corporate heavy roller, whom she viciously attacked in a general election just about two short years ago.
The COVID-19 has not only unhinged our socio-economic model but has left naked for all to see, a barren collective leadership that now finds everything, apart from sunseekers on their beaches, beyond their bankrupt imagination.
We expect to see more pigs walking on their hindlegs.