By Adrian Loveridge
Is there some room for cautious optimism in Barbados’s tourism performance?
Following 21 consecutive months of long stay visitor decline, January 2014 recorded a modest increase of 3.2 percent when compared with the same month in 2013.
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
It is however important to keep this in absolute perspective.
January 2013 was down 8.2 percent (4,331 people) when measured against January 2012 and, unless we finish the end of February up by 7,972 land based visitors, we will still be woefully behind the identical period last year.
The growth largely came from the United Kingdom with 1,455 more long-stay visitors over the same period in January 2013.
This in itself is encouraging because, as frequently pointed out, the British and Europeans tend to stay longer, therefore usually contributing a higher per capita spend.
The higher UK arrivals were largely driven by two charter airlines.
Thomas Cook operating a new service and Thomson adding increased capacity with recently introduced B787 Dreamliner aircraft.
Passengers off these flights would have included a significant number of cruise and stay holidaymakers, but both carriers offered many seats on sale at substantially reduced fares, which in some cases were less than £300 return, including all taxes.
With such a diverse destination and a myriad range of accommodation options, these last minute ‘bargains’ present an opportunity to fill some beds at short notice.
Scheduled carriers, Virgin Atlantic, carried fewer passengers on the Gatwick service, but more from Manchester, while British Airways (BA) had a net gain.
Again, to emphasis that these comparisons are all based on the differential between January 2013 and 2014.
Virgin’s numbers must also take into account dramatically reduced capacity as a result of equipment change from a daily B747 service to mostly the smaller A330 planes on the London route.
BA and Virgin also held an extended seat sale which expired on 28th January, with some of the lowest legacy fares available in the entire Caribbean for the remainder of 2014.
Hopefully this resulted in substantial bookings, which will positively impact the arrival numbers later this year.
Looking at other markets, once again there was no growth out of the US, despite JetBlue introducing larger planes and increased frequency, the mid-month loss of the American Airlines direct JFK flight resulted in an overall 1,324 lost seats out of New York.
Especially worrying when you take into account climatic conditions and we are in the peak winter season.
In fact, 2013 boasted the lowest number of United States stay-over visitors in any one of the last 11 years, again calling into question why this market continues to receive an inappropriate share of the BTA annual budget, when clearly it is not performing.
Is it also time to look again at the viability of the direct Sao Paulo service, operated once-weekly by GOL? Nearly four years after its launch, what are the average loadings, stay and spend?
Has it ever and does it continue to be cost-effective for the resources allocated, or could these precious marketing and airlift support monies, be better spent elsewhere.
Are these unreasonable questions and do not our policymakers have an obligation to tell us?
After all, government wants the private sector to step-up our investment in the product and plant, but this has to be a two-way relationship.
While we are kept in the dark, it is almost impossible to make calculated and intelligent decisions, or where we could deploy and maximize any available profits into further commitments.