When you are working with miniscule marketing budgets, securing sponsorship is absolutely critical to the overall success of most promotions. The secret is to ensure that any sponsor ‘investing’ in a bigger picture project achieves a cost effective return. That cannot be done without a careful evaluation of potential linkages and mutual benefits.
Quoting from a well known business publication, ‘Sponsorship should not be confused with advertising. Advertising is considered a quantitative medium, whereas sponsorship is considered a qualitative medium’. Beneficial partnerships can add tremendous value and credibility, especially if increased sales and market share can be directly measured to the strategic alliance. It also makes it far more likely that the sponsor would be willing to support future ventures.
There are many creative ways that the process can be enhanced. For instance with our current dine-around initiative we persuaded a major distributor to offer a range of wines at a special rate to our restaurants partners, allowing a greater net return for the individual establishments and growing the suppliers market share. Other sponsors have a monthly option of offering one or more of their products at reduced prices.
As we have now passed the latest ‘book-by’ date for the several times re-launched Barbados Island Inclusive promotion, is it time to analyse how cost effective the initiative has been? Especially as it was one of the very few, national marketing initiatives for this year that has either not been postponed, cancelled or simply just not implemented in the first place.
Just to remind readers, the stated objective was to generate an ‘additional’ 15,000 long stay visitors between the end of May and the 21st December 2013 who would spend BDS$30 million at a quoted cost of BDS$11 million to cover the promotional costs. Minister of Tourism (MOT), Mr. Sealy is on record as stating ‘all but $4 million will actually be spent on advertising’. On 22nd July 2013 the Barbados Government Information Service reported the MOT ‘had revealed that more than 5,000 tourists had taken advantage of the vouchers being offered under the programme’.
We know that even before the October figures are published, that ‘we’ are already experiencing an unprecedented 18 consecutive months of long stay visitor decline. So the word ‘additional’ is critical to evaluate because if the initiative had in fact generated any incremental numbers then it has been at a huge cost.
It was quite a revelation to read through the five newspaper pages of ‘indebted’ individuals and entities listed by National Insurance Board (NIB) from a tourism perspective. Especially, when you realise that many of them have either in the past and/or currently benefited from substantial taxpayer subsidies, grants or soft loans. It seems almost incredulous that, at least in some cases, if any due diligence has been practised between the various Government agencies involved before the monies were advanced.
Take the (TIRF) Tourism Industry Relief Fund as an example. I understand that this was purely intended to assist qualifying tourism businesses to maintain employment. I never saw it as a source of ‘free’ funds to assist in the avoidance of statutory obligations. Yet, well over a Million Dollars in TIRF monies was paid over to one of the hotels listed by the NIB. Others, were allowed to access to preferential interest rates through the Enterprise Growth Fund and perhaps most alarming of all, several are currently benefitting from taxpayer subsidised BTA promotions like the Barbados Island Inclusive promotion.
For the many enterprises like ours who have frequently struggled to pay our bills on time, it makes a mockery of those trying to do the right thing. Almost anyone in business could contest that at some stage they have experienced some financial problems or challenges, and this is clearly understandable. But as the Barbados Social Security clearly states, the list applies to those ‘who have not made satisfactory arrangements to liquidate the outstanding debt (or) have not adhered to arrangements made’. Again, if this disparity is allowed to continue,’we’ are just allowing the goalposts to be moved one more time and disadvantaging others who are fighting to keep trading legitimately.
When you read emotive statements such as ‘In two months we would have reached the enviable target of over one billion earned impressions on our digital properties supporting brand Barbados’ perhaps you cannot fail to be left in a condition of being awestruck. But then, reflecting on the words, what does this actually mean and how does it impact on our current tourism performance.
It is quickly realised that while the less informed may get blown away with the flowery phraseology, certainly in the last seventeen consecutive months, it has not had any positive effective on driving increased long stay visitor arrivals.
We are also in the third year of the quoted multi million marketing arrangement with superstar Rihanna and ten months since her long delayed campaign video has been aired. When I last checked YouTube it had received over 450,000 views. On reflection, at least the inclusion of a ‘call to action’ or proven method of monitoring the level of booked holiday conversion ratio would have demonstrated any cost-effectiveness. Surely, by now, we should have started to see some sort of return on ‘our’ investment?
There appears to be a growing trend of people in privileged public positions lambasting those in the private sector. Only recently on a popular call-in programme an unelected but paid Senator, cast aspersions and innuendo on the elected unpaid President of the Barbados Hotel and Tourism Association (BHTA), questioning among other things, her political affiliation.
Is it so difficult to understand the head of that organization is a volunteer, who gives up an enormous amount of their time, without financial reward to fairly represent and lobby for the subscription paying members of a private sector trade association.? That individual’s role is not to pay lip service to any Government its representatives or supporters, but to articulate unresolved challenges the sector is clearly experiencing, and if it is felt these concerns are repeatedly being ignored, to step ‘up the ante’.
In her recent report, delivered at the BHTA Annual General Meeting, some of those concerns were expressed in these words, ‘It was recognised and agreed that while we wait for the completion of the Tourism Master Plan, we need to implement immediate action to tackle the crisis now at hand’. It also appears there is an increasing chain of thought that hoteliers are always moaning and demand a level of attention that cannot be reasonably justified.
On Saturday 20 April 2013, the Minister of Tourism held a local media conference to launch the initiative, which according to reports is expected to cost a staggering 11 per cent of the annual budget of the Barbados Tourism Authority. Without wanting to repeat information already in the public domain, the objective is to drive an ‘additional’ 15,000 long stay visitors this year, who are expected to spend $30 million.
The following week the Minister then travelled to the United Kingdom, where I believe he met with several British travel interests, including both Virgin Atlantic Airways and Virgin Holidays. On his return, the Minister appeared on a 45 minute long CBC News Extra programme, where he was the only speaker. While CBC TV8 clearly had a full hour available, no time whatsoever was allocated to attending journalists so they could pose any questions they may have wished to ask. Personally I think this was a huge mistake. It gives the impression either that there is no accountability and/or, it is not important to keep the public (and industry) fully and accurately informed.
Recently published online by Caribbean News Now, hotelier, Rob Barrett, the CEO and operator of three hotels on Antigua, St. James Club, Galley Bay and Verandah Resort and Spa, announced some very encouraging news.
‘The first quarter of 2013, January through March, has been the best quarter in terms of financial results I have experienced since coming to Antigua over 20 years ago, despite lingering and significant global economic challenges in both North America and the UK’.
Attributing some of the growth to, in his words’, ‘I believe some of the recent strength is the result of positive changes happening on island which affect visitors’ perceptions from their welcome with improved customs and immigration processing to the more efficient taxi operations. These together provide an overall better arrival experience for visitors’.