We recall a time not so long ago there was the Barbados Tourism Authority (BTA), then the Democratic Labour Party (DLP) won the government in 2008 and a decision was taken to change the structure. The BTA transitioned to the Barbados Tourism Marketing Inc (BTMI) and the Barbados Tourism Product Authority (BTPA). It is at that time the former minister of tourism saw the opportunity to get rid of Adrian Loveridge from sitting on the restructured BTPA Board.
Ten years later the BTMI and BTPA are about to suffer another transition.
If there was a single phrase to describe this winter tourism season, I think it may be great expectations. Despite all the wild speculation which included ‘this November has been one of the best Barbados had seen in a while’ being made by tourism officials, the month in fact ended by recording the lowest long stay visitors for any November during the last 11 years. It also heralded 20 consecutive months of stay over visitor decline.
As this is the latest in a long line of unfulfilled predictions this year, is it time for our policymakers to focus more attention on what can be achieved, rather than drift into the realms of prophecy and conjecture. I wonder just how much longer we can go on trying to justify rewarding failure. So much is riding on the performance of our tourism sector over the next 120 plus days leading up until next Easter Monday on 22 April, not only in terms of occupancy, but in the critical role of trying to claw back lost revenue from the last almost two lean years.
In our key market, the United Kingdom, traditionally there is a booking surge when tour operators step up their promotional activities on Boxing Day. But one of the largest travel companies, Thomas Cook, pre-empted its competitors by launching a massive sale, two weeks prior to Christmas to tempt the bargain hunters into commitment for summer 2014.
When I Googled “Barbados All Inclusive” yesterday [17 November 2013] I clicked on the barbados.org link, then http://www.barbados.org/allinclusive_vacations.php#.UoohrxaSKRY,There I found a list of 8 all-inclusive resorts, I then printed pages 1 to 3 of the 5 pages. On the printed page 2 of 5, the same two pictures of the two kids and the two adults which appeared on the website were printed – and, unbelievably, under those pictures there is an ad for Transat Holidays for – SAINT LUCIA!. A copy of the printed page is attached. When I revisited the same page this morning, and printed page 2 of 5, the Transat/Saint Lucia ad was replaced with an Air Canada/CIBC ad. Copy also attached. Apparently barbdos.org sells ad space to travel organizations which rotate and appear only in the printed material.
I suggest it might be timely for those who control barbados.org, the “Official Website of the Barbados Tourism Authority“, to do a bit of due diligence into the workings of its website.
Excerpts related to tourism Budget Speeches 2008 to 2012:
There are some critical national concerns and a Tourism Master Plan is currently being designed by a new Unit in the Ministry of Tourism designed to look at our tourism development strategy in a holistic way addressing our product, land use policy, marketing, carrying capacity and linkages to our other sectors and the lives of Barbadians among other matters.
The expansion of the luxury tourism market will include the construction and opening every two years of a major internationally branded luxury hotel and associated branded residences catering to the five-star and ultra luxury tourism market.
The expansion of the luxury room stock will also assist in the establishment of the Health Tourism market in Barbados.
I [the late David Thompson’s first budget] have just returned from a CARICOM Heads of Government meeting at which tourism, regional and international transport were discussed for one full day. Some important decisions were taken including the commitment to a regional brand, the establishment of a Caribbean Tourism Marketing Fund and discussions are taking place between LIAT and Caribbean Airlines Limited on their future together – Budget 2008
I am a concerned admirer of Barbados who reside abroad. The slowly deteriorating economic situation on the island leaves me in bewilderment because there seems to be a lot of talk and no action. Nearly every day I read in the online press about more layoffs and business closures. Most of the writers on the blogs seem to be more keen on casting political barbs at one another than of providing creative, useful comments that might make Barbados better.
My profession has always been travel to the Caribbean and in Sweden. I see movement in the right direction from Aruba, Curacao, The Dominican Republic, St Lucia & Jamaica. I see nothing from Barbados. Barbados has a lot to offer the visitor. Unfortunately, the BTA does not seem to know their targets nor do they produce relevant information for their partners who sell the destination. Families, singles, honeymooners, wedding couples, seniors – all relevant market groups.
Government’s budget setting out the Estimates of Expenditure and Revenue for the financial year 2013/2014, lists that ‘a subvention of $101.7 million has been provided to the Barbados Tourism Authority to facilitate marketing and promotion’. At first, it seems, a simple enough stated intent, but what does it really mean?
‘Marketing and promotion’, what will ultimately be spent on these two critical functions after all other expenses are taken out? Salaries, per diem allowances, the much vaunted restructuring costs possibly including an allowance for severance, consultancy fees, lease payments on luxury SUV vehicles, recent office moving expenses, outstanding debts, overseas offices, depreciation, interest. The list goes on and on.
Perhaps even more pertinent, will the budgeted amount even actually be available to the organisation? Or will they become cash starved again, before the end of the next financial year contributing to another near devastating fall in arrival numbers. Bearing in mind the fragile state of the industry, wouldn’t it also be wise to ensure that the private sector is fully informed of any recovery plans to ensure limited available resources from them is not squandered by duplicating efforts.
I suppose you can put it down to my naivety, so long in coming, so many great expectations and then in hindsight, the reality of the situation. Almost 40 percent of the eligible electorate chose not to vote, the status quo re-elected for a second term by a precariously small majority and just microscopic adjustments made to the governance of an industry in crisis. At least, that seems to be the scenario, so far.
Clearly there are plus points. Senator Irene Sandiford-Garner, appointed as a Parliamentary Secretary in the reconfigured Ministry and Tourism and International Transport, when many of us years later are still puzzled why the two bodies were ever separated in the first place. The Senator brings her abilities in marketing to the table at a time when this discipline is needed more than ever.
Shadowing the Ministry is Member of Parliamant Santia Bradshaw and while I don’t want to diminish her abundant legal qualifications, I am far from convinced we need or want any more lawyers involved in tourism policymaking. But she is also an entrepreneur and after looking at her website, I was personally impressed with the high level of presentation. Hopefully she can add value and youthful objectivity to the sector from a constructive opposition stance.
Having sat on the board of the Barbados Hotel and Tourism Association (BHTA) briefly, you get some idea of what a complex and challenging task it is for any Executive Vice President and the juggling act, he or she has to perform on a daily basis. Keeping everybody happy, in my view, is a near impossible task.
On reflection, I believe the body and its members have been extremely lucky, with very few exceptions, to have attracted the calibre of people who have held the position of EVP. When Sue Springer was recently interviewed by one of the other media outlets, you could sense the passion and genuine unease in her quoted words, even the journalist prefixed her title with ‘frustrated’. I don’t believe that anyone should view her comments as alarmist, as she is reflecting the obvious concerns of the members.
The article was headed “layoffs looming’and pointed out that ‘the sector may have to brace for problems if the current state of the industry did not improve this summer’. Ms. Springer warned that the first quarter of this year was already looking bleak and this was clearly illustrated in the 8.2 per cent fall in long stay visitors in the peak month of January. Recently, one of our returning guests to the UK reported that the ten rows of seats behind them were all empty and that one flight arrived with 24 people in economy. As loyal regulars to Barbados, I have no reason to doubt them.
Like Hants, CTO’s initial reaction was kudos to BTA – finally some Barbados promotion; particularly given the absence of BTA advertising in the Toronto media over the past several months. It is interesting to read the 2011 Totally Barbados article which includes the following
‘The region as a whole has regained ground lost in the heat of the global economic depression’.
‘The Caribbean also saw its largest number of stayover visitors in five years, with the region’s overall hotel occupancy increasing by more than seven per cent and room revenues up by nearly nine percent’.
‘About 25 million tourists visited the Caribbean last year, a more than 5 per cent increase from 2011. Its a growth rate that outpaced the rest of the world’.
These and other equally encouraging statements were recently uttered by Beverly-Nicholson-Doty, Chairwoman of the Caribbean Tourism Organisation. To the majority of the Ministers of Tourism within the Caribbean, it must be like hearing pleasurable music in their ears.
Sadly, not to Barbados, where instead of recording an almost 6 per cent growth in 2012, we experienced a 5.5 per cent fall in long stay visitor arrivals. A near 11 per cent differential. Any newly elected Government must consider the reasons behind this dismal performance as an imperative, before more hotels close, further lay-offs occur and remaining airlift is further eroded
As we have now crossed the halfway stage of the winter tourism season, it is looking increasingly doubtful that any predictions of a strong performance in this sector will become a reality. The January long stay visitor arrivals figures are especially alarming. An overall fall of 8.2 per cent across all markets, but significantly of concern are the numbers from Canada, which saw a 18.4 per cent fall when compared with the same month in 2012. The USA was down 11.1 per cent, the UK down 2.4 per cent and Trinidad down a staggering 40.6 per cent.
Whoever, assumes the office of Government later this week will finally have to take a long and hard look at current marketing strategies, and even if this is deemed an imperative, there is very little likelihood that any measures implemented at this late stage will make an iota of difference before April 15. So the next challenge is the eight long softer summer months.
After five years in power the outgoing administration had seemingly abandoned any attempt to fulfil their previously stated 2008 manifesto objective, to restructure the Barbados Tourism Authority. This despite an overwhelming mandate to effect change, yet surprisingly, its popped up again in the 2013 manifesto.
Is the predicted 6 or 7 percent fall in long stay visitors during the month of January directly as a result of reduced promotional expenditure by the national marketing agency, and if so, has anyone put a dollar value on the consequential loss of tax revenue collected by Government?
Is this yet another example of a failed policy decision, as when Government increased the level of VAT, only to find the overall amount gathered, went down and not up? According to the Central Bank (CBB) from $683.4 million in 2011 to $666.6 million in 2012.
A 6 percent decrease in arrivals when compared to January 2012 would represent 3,157 less people and 7 percent 3,683. Last January was already down over the previous year, albeit only by 0.8 per cent according to CTO figures.
What we should be asking is how much those missing thousands would have spent and is the current dearth of funds to the Barbados Tourism Authority actually costing the industry and the nation’s coffers more than we can imagine.
A photo clip on CNN during the US elections showing a little girl crying because she was sick and tired of hearing the news associated with President Obama and GOP candidate Mitt Romney election campaigns has prompted this blog. Like the election vitriol, the incessant reactive rhetorical rantings emanating from Barbados’ sidewalk superintendents and armchair supervisors about their destination’s tourism industry have become inordinately objectionable and are turning off would be visitors.
The recent adverse comments posted by visitors in Trip Advisor about their ruined holiday experiences in the Gap also do not auger well for Barbados and further aggravate the situation. Both groups paint an unsavoury image – all is not well in Paradise, serious plant deterioration is occurring, and Barbados’ tourism continues to be like a ship in a tempus, floundering aimlessly without a rudder.
The reprehensible behaviour is causing irreparable damage to Barbados’ reputation as a holiday destination and in the long run will be extremely costly to repair. To get an impartial evaluation of the state of Barbados’ tourism industry, a consultant involved with the marketing and promotion of Caribbean tourism was interviewed and asked to give his thoughts and insight on the challenges Barbados faces for the future.