By Adrian Loveridge
First impressions and attention to detail in tourism, I suspect like most sectors, can make all the difference whether you retain a customer or, in this case, a visitor, or not.
While flying back into Barbados last week, my thoughts were that, despite all the time ‘we’ have been involved in the hospitality industry, have ‘we’ really learnt from our mistakes.
Adrian Loveridge has spent 46 years in the tourism industry across 67 countries, as a travel agent, tour director, tour operator and for the last 24 years as a small hotel owner on Barbados. He served as a director of the Barbados Hotel and Tourism Association, and as chairman of the Marketing Committee. He also served as a director of the Barbados Tourism Authority and is a frequent writer on tourism issues
While exiting off a Virgin Atlantic plane, the second half-full flight on this route that I was personally experiencing in eight days, I funnelled through with the other passengers to immigration. Looking up, many of the overhead walkway ceilings were dirty, cobwebbed and frankly, badly in need of painting.
Reduced airport earnings may be an issue, but what does it take to use some of that currently wasted space to offer advertising opportunities that would in turn pay for any increased maintenance costs to keep these areas clean.
Next, you are confronted with what must have been relatively expensive full colour large decals, promoting not, as you would reasonably expect, upcoming events but a 2013 Crop Over Season that ended weeks ago.
With an American Airlines arrival just minutes before, our 146 Gatwick passengers filtered in behind the Immigration queue. Yet despite the overwhelming number of passport holders being ‘international’, just two immigration officers were ‘manning’ the many booths. Seemingly lacking any logic or planning, four officers are on the ‘CARICOM’ desks, with far fewer persons to process.
Perhaps it’s long past time that tourism is better explained to all the human component parts of the industry that are there to help make it work.
Even before our average British visitor boards an eight to nine hour flight, there is an airport check-in requirement of up to three hours.
Very few of our cherished guests actually live on the doorstep of Gatwick or Manchester.
Many will have to undertake a road or rail journey, sometimes involving hundreds of miles, perhaps under adverse weather or traffic conditions.
So, when that traveller finally arrives at Grantley Adams, paramount on their mind is to get to their booked accommodation, relax, unwind and, if they are very lucky, take a daylight dip in the inviting warm ocean.
This is what lingering memories are made of.
After all, the overwhelming number of our visitors have worked 50 weeks of the year to justify the cost of this precious holiday.
The very last consideration on their mind is to experience what many of us feel are unnecessary delays in entering their destination of choice.
And choice is a very big factor here.
If we make it a too difficult or prolonged process, next time we risk them opting for another holiday location choice, where more time can be spent actually participating in what they have paid for.
These observations are not new or groundbreaking.
The immigration situation has been going on for as long as I can remember, but surely now is the time to be doing something positive to improve the status quo?
As we end what is traditionally the quietest tourism month of the year, is it time to reflect on how we do business, by viewing the industry through our customers’ eyes?