By Adrian Loveridge
While still a month away, September presents one of the most challenging times of the year from a tourism perspective, especially from our second largest market, the United States. With three flights daily, two from Miami, and one from New York, unless the scheduled aircraft type is changed that amounts to a total seat capacity of 16,680 in and out for the entire 30 days.
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
September 2013 recorded the second lowest US long stay visitor arrivals (6,198) for the last eight years, with only 2012 performing worse. Even if you factor in those travelling who are not counted in the landed passenger statistics, you start to get an idea of the problem.
Clearly this massive over-capacity or under-utilisation is not good, either for the airlines or the destination, as there is no profit in an empty seat or vacant room.
Is there anything ‘we’ can do? For many years I have tried to advocate the opportunities that frequent flyer programmes offer. From 7th September until 14th November, American Airlines lower their mileage requirement to 25,000 for a return economy ticket from almost any city they service in Continental North America to Barbados.
Of particular interest, due to excellent connection times, are cities like Houston and Chicago, where published round trip normal fares to Barbados would be at least US$789 and $673 respectively.
Using miles only, the add-on taxes are payable, which amount to less than US$60 return.
This presents tremendous marketing potential for us to drive additional visitors, as we then only have to compete on a ground level basis and with our incredible range of accommodation offerings, this should not be difficult.
What would ensure the success of this concept is to further reduce the miles required by purchasing say 5,000 and bring the redemption level down to 20,000.
Since the merger of US Airways and American Airlines, the combined number of loyalty members now exceeds 100 million. Just think if we were able to entice only a tiny percentage of those to our shores.
With the reintroduction of Delta Airlines direct service from Atlanta commencing 4th December, the current connecting AA flights through Miami represents an interim chance to capture some of the six million people who live within an hour’s drive of Hartsfield/Jackson airport, which in passenger terms is the world’s busiest.
While the connections in one direction are not perfect, given that the fare using miles is around US$60 return, this should not present a deterrent obstacle.
For travel from December, Delta is still showing a minimum economy ticket price of almost US$800 roundtrip on the nonstop Atlanta/Barbados route. With the degree of destination competition, it is clear, at least in my eyes, that this level of pricing is not going to drive meaningful additional business to our shores, especially among rack rate-paying individual travelers.
So let us hope that flight price adjustments are made, permitting sufficient time for a booking window and allowing people to make travel plans.