THE NEED FOR CHANGE
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.