By Adrian Loveridge
Once leaving August behind, we enter what is traditionally, for Barbados, the most challenging periods in tourism terms.
Historically, the month that experiences the least number of arrivals of the year is September.
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
September 2012 recorded just 27,230 long stay visitor arrivals, the lowest number in any month for the past ten years and a decline of 6.6 percent over the same period in 2011.
Given our already dramatically reduced airlift, with an average of just 907 passengers per day, it will result in flying hundreds of empty airline seats daily, or in fact thousands, by month end.
Once the plane has taken off, clearly these seats cannot be sold twice the next day.
From an accommodation perspective, even if all these 27,230 persons stayed in a licensed hotel and the average stay was seven nights with two per room, that still only fills less than 2,000 rooms, against a total, that is often quoted of between 5,000 and 6,000.
This, of course, does not take into account all the apartments, villas, condominiums and any unregistered accommodation providers.
It also helps explain why several hotels and restaurants decide to close during September for annual holidays, refurbishment or simply to curtail operational costs.
September perhaps would have been the most logical month to roll-out the proposed APD voucher, but this could have only possibly influenced one main market, the United Kingdom.
As I have to submit this column a few days before publication, perhaps details of the voucher conditions will be announced in the interim.
So should the industry simply lay down and accept the current trend of falling visitor numbers?
Under the current fiscal challenges, we cannot afford to, so it becomes an imperative to look for other creative ways to achieve a positive difference.
From 7th September until 14th November, American Airlines through its loyalty programme, AAdvantage, lowers the mileage requirement to 25,000 miles from any point they currently serve in the continental United States and Canada to/from Barbados.
With over 66 million members, it’s a huge untapped market for us. When American merges with US Airways, tens of millions more people will have the means to reach us, from many more connecting cities.
Now look at it from a potential visitor’s perspective.
If I wanted to fly from Los Angeles to Barbados, the lowest bookable return fare online is US$1,017 for travel in September. Using miles, it’s only US$59.70.
This breaks down the huge geographical airfare cost differential and opens up what are considered far-flung price deterrent source markets.
How do we reach this massive group of travel ready people?
The simple answer is to smart-partner with the airline and use its existing channels of communicating with frequent flyer customers, electronically.
The destination could also purchase additional miles to further lower the travel threshold and make it almost irresistible.
Already some private sector partners are offering triple miles over this period to maximise opportunities for every part of the sector.
Timing is critical, and in this industry there is no longer the luxury for procrastination in decision making.
Not that there ever was, but we seem to have grown accustomed to apathy and a lack of lucidity.
Let us collectively make it the best performing September in eleven years, rather than set yet another record of failure.