By Adrian Loveridge
The merger of American Airlines and US Airways has now pushed the combined frequent flyer membership above the 100 million mark.
Put another way, almost 33 percent of the world’s third most populous country, the United States.
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
In any market it would be a difficult segment to persistently ignore, but from Barbados’s second largest source of long stay visitors, it defies belief, especially during times of economic challenges, when holiday budgets can be among the first to suffer. It may also partially explain why some of our neighbours have overtaken us in American long-stay visitors.
Sadly, the loss of the American Airlines direct service out of New York will further restrict the potential, previously having lost Dallas/Fort Worth and San Juan, plus Philadelphia with US Airways.
But with the miles now totally interchangeable between the two carriers, we still have daily service from Miami and currently once a week from Charlotte. Whether the re-organisation will result in a downsizing of the North Carolina hub and curtailment of this flight remains to be seen.
Route changes have yet to be announced, so ‘we’ are not fully aware of any new opportunities that it may present, but that should not stop exploiting what already exists.
One of the reasons why I am so passionate about airline loyalty programmes is because existing marketing initiatives in the USA simply have not worked. There has been no overall long stay visitor arrival increase from this market for six years, so surely it’s long overdue that alternative strategies are at least tried.
Last year, up until the end of November there were 10,356 fewer US visitors and this when compared with 2012, which recorded 11,652 fewer than 2011.
Over the last decade an increased number of services and goods providers have seen the measured value of offering miles and become far more innovative in their promotional offers. For instance new websites like rocketmiles.com and pointshound.com tempt consumers by offering much high mileage on hotel bookings and if you pay by an affinity linked credit card, the miles mount up even quicker.
Several local hotels participate and guests can earn over 11,000 miles on a three-night booking. A return economy flight is available from any American Airlines point served in the continental United States for as little as 25,000 miles to Barbados, breaking down the price barrier for longer distances.
For many, it’s perhaps easy to see the benefits.
It also attracts clientele to the hotels who are paying closer to rack rate, therefore driving more revenue for the accommodation provider.
Or, as one of the two mentioned companies so aptly puts it, “We offer hotels a unique way to generate demand when rooms could otherwise go empty or when they are seeking to get the attention of new customers.”
Just as an airline cannot sell the same seat twice tomorrow, once the night has passed that vacant room simply represents lost income that is difficult, if not almost impossible to recover. With annual average occupancy at around 60 percent across our registered hotels, that equates to around 730,000 empty room nights per year and that’s before you factor in the villas, condominiums and unlicensed properties.