By Adrian Loveridge
According to figures released by the Barbados Statistical Service, January 2014 recorded the second highest long-stay visitor arrivals from the United Kingdom in the last 12 years, with 18,134 persons.
Only January 2009 exceeded this number, with 20,911 persons.
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
Having said this, there is still a mountain to climb, especially if you look at the situation in perspective: this lone month has to take into account recent past performance.
In 2012, our single largest market registered a decline in every consecutive month of that year, ending with an overall fall of 15,631 stay-over visitors.
2013 finished with another 4,786 arrivals down over 2012.
So over the last two years we have already more than 20,000 ‘lost’ British visitors to make up for.
February 2014 United Kingdom figures continued with what hopefully will be an ongoing trend, with a 10.2 percent increase when compared with the identical month a year ago.
Sadly though, the decline across other markets resulted in an overall fall, registering the lowest stay-over numbers for any February during the last 11 years. More than any, the second month of the calendar is often the barometer of whether the winter season is going to end successfully or not.
We know that the ‘Brits’ and Europeans stay longer, therefore it is reasonable to assume they spend more, so based on this knowledge, should we not be spending a larger proportion of precious marketing resources in this market.
The January ‘stats’ clearly show that price or the cost of the product can drive additional business as the majority of the increased numbers arrived on two British charter airlines, Thomson and Thomas Cook.
In some cases, seats with these carriers are half the price of what the scheduled airlines are charging, which can make all the difference for a family of four.
Once we get past next month, it would appear that some of these additional flight options are not available for the softer summer months, so supply and demand will largely govern fare price levels.
Naturally, everything must be done to protect the legacy airlines, Virgin Atlantic and British Airways, but is it time to revisit the possibility of targeted charters from airports other than Gatwick and Manchester?
We are now just weeks away from Scotland’s referendum on 18th September. The Scottish government has already pledged to reduce (initially by 50 percent) and then possibly abolish the dreaded APD (Advance Passenger Duty) if there is a YES vote.
This would give their airports a distinct commercial advantage, for not just direct, but also connecting flights.
British Airways, group CEO, Willie Walsh, has called this a possible “positive development”.
Hopefully discussions are already taking place with the decision makers of Norwegian Air, who have recently relocated their long haul subsidiary to Dublin in the Republic of Ireland, which in terms of airport capacity ranks as Europe’s tenth largest, carrying over 20 million passengers in 2013.
Flights originating in Eire are also not subject to APD.
Norwegian will commence flights across the fiercely competitive transatlantic out of Gatwick in July and are expanding their fleet with an almost incredulous order of 260 new aircraft. If they could be persuaded to fly a limited charter out of Dublin to Barbados, this would also help us build the prosperous largely recession-proof Scandinavian market with connecting flights plus open up the Baltic States.
And if there is a perceived capacity risk, then are we really too proud or myopic to share such a service with Saint Lucia or Grenada on a triangular route?