The Tourism industry is dynamic and complex and every aspect of our personal and corporate lives are affected by the performance of tourism. We are an import driven society and those imports are primarily paid from tourism receipts, either directly or indirectly through foreign direct investments from tourism related businesses. The success or failure of the industry can affect every citizen and it can have a ripple effect on every other industry and as such, it is an important nexus to the commercial activity of Barbados.
In the last nine years the highest point of long stay arrivals was just over 570k persons and the lowest point 508k arrivals. A difference of 62k persons. For many years the taxpayers money has been spent in relatively unscientific ways to attract these visitors to Barbados. Times have changed and technology is the most important tool to understanding the travel needs of the global public and communicating our messages to that public. It was important that the marketing structure and resource management of the Country’s marketing agency be more relevant to the demands of these potential customers; hence, the establishment of the Barbados Tourism Marketing Inc., a private company owned by Government. As a private company, the BTMI has the ability to be more nimble to respond to the markets; enter into strategic partnerships; and have better control as to how the best talent can be recruited and/or contracted to give Barbados a competitive advantage in the Caribbean tourism space.
This approach should see immediate benefits from the USA market, where American consumers make travel decisions using technology more-so than in any other market. As Chairman of the former BTA, my Board recognized that we needed to refocus our efforts in getting growth out of the USA. Their economy was recovering faster than the UK and most of the potential new investments in the Barbadian Hotel sector was USA centric. As such, our Board made a policy decision to invest in about 273,000 seats for Barbados from the USA in 2015, an increase of 17%. This will come from well-regarded airline partners such as Delta, American, US Air, and JetBlue.
This airlift will support the new and improved room stock from Sandals and existing hotels who are taking advantage of the suite of concessions being offered to the private sector in the industry through new Government policies.
So within the ambit of Government policy, the strategy of growing the USA market is by the investment in new airlift; new hotel investments; buttressing low seasons by increasing family travel in summers; and by investing in niche activities such as sports, entertainment, and conferences. This strategy is simple but I am sure it can be effective. The reality of the USA is that there is a need for stronger alliances with the digital travel trade and direct-to-consumer marketing. It is also expected that the BTMI will have increased staff in the USA in key cities and their job will be to build upon existing travel and demographic trends, research, and data and strategically increase our arrivals from these areas to support the increasing and improving room stock anticipated over the next three years from major hotel brands who have expressed strong interest in Barbados.
It is important that Barbadian patriotism must ALWAYS take precedence over narrow personal parochialism. The better that we become in marketing our Country to the world, the more we will see an expansion of our economy through stabilized foreign exchange patterns. This will also see us becoming more attractive to investors who would want to take advantage of our democratically stable Government; significant and improved direct airlift to key commercial capitals of the world; and our ever-improving infrastructure, especially with the advancements being made in digital capacity, and technology investments in the telecommunications sector. The Government’s decision to make Barbados a green economy has also caught the attention of many persons in the global corporate community and this policy strategy should not be underestimated as to its benefits for further foreign direct investment by global tourism entities.
Tourism will be our lifeblood for the foreseeable future. It requires all of us within the Business community to play a more active role in supporting the sector and initiatives being taken to strengthen the sector. Without it, the International Business Sector can be compromised; the wider business sector will not have adequate foreign exchange to conduct its business with its global partners; and the social fabric of the island we love can quickly unravel.
It is time for Barbados to come together!