By Adrian Loveridge
Even though it has not become widespread public knowledge, for Barbados, September 2013 became the 18th consecutive month of long-stay visitor decline and recorded the lowest stay-over arrivals of any month in the last 11 years.
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
As someone who has invested their life savings and 25 years in the Barbados tourism industry, it give me no pleasure to state this unpleasant fact, but someone has to say it, if only in the interests of survival.
The time for remedial action has long since passed.
Once again, it is now a case of damage limitation and focusing on what the private sector can do for itself to avoid annihilation of the industry as we know it.
This may at first appear dramatic, but you only have to look around at other businesses on the island to understand that a sector that has been financially drained for a year and a half cannot be immune from the same challenges others are facing.
Not that our policymakers are listening, but I am going to make a few suggestions.
1) Establish a National Marketing Committee (NMC) in the shortest practical time, comprising proven professionals with a rotating chairman, chosen irrespective of any political party leanings.
The existing Barbados Tourism Authority (BTA) board would cease to play any functional part in promoting the destination, or simply be disbanded, based on non-performance.
2) Place the opposition spokesperson on tourism (regardless of which party is in power) on this committee, to ensure there is true non-partisan participation in decision making and understanding of the current problems.
3) Every current or planned national marketing initiative should be fully appraised for past or potential cost-effectiveness with realistic targets set and constantly monitored.
4) A small opportunity team is put in place to systematically follow all mentions of Barbados on the various social media sites, intelligently respond and maximise positive public relations while fostering smart partnerships.
5) The current government either implements in a specified time period, or honestly admits that they are unable to bring about the much vaunted planned restructuring of the BTA and the introduction of a truly all embracing tourism master plan.
6) As there the political will clearly is not there to bring about point number five, sit down with the staff at the BTA and see how the organisation can be shaped into a more efficient slimmed down unit that can proficiently carry out the direction of the NMC.
7) Issue a tender to attract a local company, which would rebuild the websites of the BTA and Ministry of Tourism, keep them up-to-date and handle the advertising and public relations of these entities, in tandem with overseas placement agencies.
The rationale for this is simple. It presently takes far too long to update in-house websites and social media sites.
8) One of the first tasks of the NMC would be to explore how our niche markets like villas and boutique hotels could work co-operatively together in joint campaigns to maximise overseas market exposure while sharing and reducing promotional costs.
9) The travel trade plays a critical role in distributing our tourism product, but frankly, we as a tourism driven economy, have become too tour operator dependent. A plan would be put in place to increase direct rack rate bookings, by ten percent.
I am going to hold the initial objectives at nine for the time being because it appears ten-point plans have little chance of implementation and, ultimately, success.