By Adrian Loveridge
Back in the 1970s, while I was working in Canada as a travel agent, we pioneered a number of what were then ‘unique smart partnerships’ with airlines and hotel groupings. One of the most successful was an arrangement with Wardair on the Winnipeg-Gatwick (London) route, where our agency block booked groups on certain dates to obtain a lower price. The benefit to the traveller, our customer, was that, if they flew on these particular specified dates, they would get their first or last night’s airport accommodation at no extra cost.
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
What prompted these memories was trying recently to find a more affordable way of getting my wife to the UK shortly for family reasons. We ended up booking a flight to Manchester, simply because it is currently far less expensive than flying to a London airport.
Despite then still having to travel over 220 miles to where she is staying, off-peak rail travel is very reasonably priced and virtually door-to-door with a minimum number of station changes.
The longest part of the land journey is between Manchester and Euston and is operated by Virgin Trains. This prompted me to look carefully at the incredible network they operate and a closer study of the ticket prices and overall journey times to other major northern British cities. Huge population centres that include Liverpool are only about an hour away and Edinburgh and Glasgow between three and four hours from Manchester Airport.
We know that already announced arrival figures for 2014 are down. May 2013 recorded the lowest stay-over numbers for 11 consecutive years during the same comparable period, with May 2012 very close behind. Hopefully the Top Gear Festival will have redressed the problem for this month but, with almost half a year of the softer summer months yet to come, what can we do to grow the most receptive markets?
Is it, for instance, possible to smart partner with Virgin Trains to help fill the Manchester to Barbados flights with their airline associate, by negotiating even lower connecting rail fares.
The effectiveness of such an initiative could easily be monitored by using an exclusive booking identity linked to the flight record locator code.
Another smart partnership could be to contract specially reduced overnight rates with UK airport hotels. Neither of these suggestions would necessarily commit Barbados to any direct expense, but give us a distinct competitive advantage when our visitors are making final destination choice.
Our policymakers will also have to focus acutely on where precious marketing dollars can produce the most cost effective results for the rest of this year and that would appear to be in Great Britain and Continental Europe at this time.
And the reasons are evidently logical. They are the only source areas that have largely shown any consistent evidence of growth, plus the average stay and spend is almost always higher.