A fresh and creative approach to our hospitality sector where our national motto of Pride and Industry is central to all that we do is what is required to move our tourism product to a higher, more world class level.
The business of hospitality requires a refreshed entrepreneurial approach with Government providing a friendly enabling environment to continuously come up with new services, new ways of presenting existing services, new ways of enhancing the experiences of an increasingly demanding clientele and new processes to economize operations. Without innovation service providers face a real threat of becoming ‘obsolete’ and out of business. Competition in the market is growing increasingly fierce, thus leading to a higher degree of professionalism in the industry when coupled with the spread of established hospitality brands means that guest demands and expectations are at an all time high. Such an environment is conducive to innovation.
There is no reason that local hospitality brands cannot flourish, however, they must look beyond our shores at what our competition around the world is doing and adopting international best practices. That is not to suggest that we just “copy” our competition as it is important that our product remains rooted in our own unique Barbados style.
Hospitality in Barbados has a long running tradition dating back to 1950’s and has evolved to the point today where we have a dichotomy of luxury hotels on the one end and an assortment of three star, two star and apartment type hotels on the other. Seasonality has been an issue for the industry since the beginning and has become even more pronounced since the start of the global recession.
One innovation to combat this issue of seasonality would be for the national marketing agency to link the starts of the two major seasons, winter and summer, with our people and our Ministry of Health to initiate a national clean up campaign under a theme that suggests that we clean up our country for our visitors in much the same way that we would clean up our own homes for visiting friends and relatives. Encourage our people to clean up not only their own property but also the immediate environs around their property.
Local culture and customs is important to our visitors and over the years Barbadians have become known for their welcoming and friendly nature. However, there is a great danger that we are no longer being seen in this light. A national hospitality training and awareness program that effectively demonstrates how we should, and should not, interact with our visitors showing off the positives of our culture and norms would going a long way in ensuring that Barbados recaptures its reputation as a friendly and happy nation.
Our island is in danger of becoming a landscape of abandoned and derelict buildings with hoardings along our major south coast and west coast tourist belts. Homogeneous buildings with little reference to our rich Barbadian architectural vernacular are becoming more of the norm and do nothing to enhance the beauty of our built environment or the visitor experience.
The awardee of the “Annual Radical Innovation in Hospitality Award” tells the story of vacant office space in midtown Manhattan where a group of developers opened a pop-up hotel as a means of urban revitalization. The developers partnered with the owners and leasing agencies to identify other buildings that could be used similarly. Why could our Government not get involved with the owners of the many abandoned buildings and working with the BHTA to come up with a similar concept for our island. The bureaucratic blocks which may currently exist that prevents development on some of these buildings would have to be removed with government also facilitating in obtaining soft funding to willing owners and developers. Think of the amazing transformation this would make to our environment.
Everyone knows that we have to be tech-savvy but the simple process (or sometimes not so simple!) job of upgrading web sites, putting booking engines on and creating Facebook is still innovative for those who haven’t tackled this. As technology will play an increasingly important role in the hospitality equation, Barbados needs to be tech and web savvy to engage its international competition on search engine optimization, web advertising, and e-marketing. Barbados, and those involved in tourism need to study their sites and improve photography and on line presence. Hotels need to also consider that guests expect, at the very least, good Wi-Fi now and in most cases expect not to be charged for this. Some luxury hotels go as far as having iPod docking stations and technology that match, and for some, exceed, the technology that guests have left at home.
Innovation is not some far-fetched, fantastical notion, it is simply new ideas to get better results. And for this reason as a tourism dependent nation needs to move swiftly and collectively to ensure that our product is at the cutting edge of the industry or we will continue to run the risk of playing catch up with our competitors.