Having spent three full days, from opening until closing, on a stand at the recently concluded Carib Food and Hospitality exhibition, I feel that I can comment fairly objectively about the first of its kind event to be held on Barbados.
First the positive aspects!
Great to see the Barbados Investment and Development Corporation (BIDC) there in force allowing several smaller manufacturers and suppliers to have a presence. Likewise with the British High Commission and its trade development arm, to showcase new and exciting products, either currently not available here or increasing the competitive choice for our hospitality industry.
The networking and co-operation between the various exhibitors was outstanding and I personally never seem to be amazed at just how many of the same challenges we are experiencing, that can be shared, and often at least partially remedied.
It was also very encouraging to see and meet many of our distributors who made the effort to attend to see what new opportunities were on offer.
Now sadly the negatives!
We know from first hand experiences that mounting a show or exhibition as a first of its kind is extremely onerous, often simply from the basic ‘unknown’ components. What will drive meaningful attendance and how can we ensure that the exhibitors get a return on their investment, which in this particular case, was at a substantial cost?
Not just for the space alone, but all the other related expenses incurred with flights, hotel accommodation, local rentals and staffing costs for overseas exhibitors. While our local distributors were well represented, it defies logic that for remainder who couldn’t justify the participation costs, but still opted not to visit, despite free entry and the flexible opening times.
How on earth will they know what their competitors are doing?
Similarly, very few hoteliers and restaurant owners attended, despite the fact that it was an event that was specifically targeted towards them. Especially at a time like this when we are in peril as a destination of losing any competitive price advantage.
Recent additional tax hikes have resulted in even our most loyal repeat clientele considering other holiday choices where they can obtain better value-for-money.
Some may interpret this non-attendance as a form of arrogance and/or indifference by the tourism stakeholders to market sensibility and product quality, particularly when the event takes place in one of our quieter times.
Equally disappointing was the absence of the Small Business Association, Barbados Chamber of Commerce and Barbados Hotel and Tourism Association, both in terms of shared stand occupation and mention on their websites and social media platforms like Facebook of the event.
Likewise with the Barbados Agricultural Development and Marketing Corporation (BADMC) who seem to have missed this opportunity to highlight local offerings.
While there are costs involved for these trade associations, but we as a destination have to offset this against the hotel beds occupied, outside of the peak season, revenue generated for LESC, the many non-national exhibitors I personally spoke to who dined at several restaurants and the various transportation and other services patronized.
No investment was made by either of the state marketing or product entities to the best of my knowledge, other than a token $100 towards signage.
If we any hope of levelling accommodation occupancy and maintaining consistently high arrival numbers to become an attractive year round destination, these trade shows will play a critical part in ensuring that it happens.