Commentary: Tourism Matters: The untapped market within the Caribbean

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By Adrian Loveridge

It’s now over five years since we organised and held the last re-DISCOVER the Caribbean Show and wonder if the timing is now right to resurrect the event again, especially as there are positive signs being shown by LIAT to offer more affordable fares. The recently announced additional flights to/from Port of Spain are an example, with a lead-in cost of US$183.10 for Trinidad to Barbados and US$196.36 return in the opposite direction, including all taxes and add-ons.

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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

Sadly our national marketing agency at that time lost interest in what was in fact a unique gathering within the region of over 20 participating Caribbean territories with a common objective.

Apart from the obvious increase in hotel occupancy and associated spending the scores of exhibitors generated, we had started witnessing secondary benefits, way beyond that of growing intra-Caribbean travel.

St Vincent and the Grenadines, especially, saw the value of participation, by encouraging their smaller manufacturers and suppliers to display and promote their products. The last delegation from SVG alone comprised of over 30 persons.

We worked very closely with the now Lloyd Erskine Sandiford Centre (LESC) to make exhibiting affordable for all, with corporate Barbados willingly sponsoring individual destination shared Small Hotel stands, enabling even the tiniest accommodation providers across the region to be part of a much bigger awareness picture for a nominal $50 registration fee per property.

Caribbean people travel year round and just a ten percent increase per year in arrival numbers from this market could make a massive difference to the bottom line of many tourism partners.

And before detractors point out the limited air capacity availability, even if LIAT is averaging 80 percent load factors during the summer, that still means hundreds of unsold seats are available to fill each day.

Just as an empty hotel bed cannot be sold twice the next night, airlines have almost identical challenges with unoccupied seats.

We willingly gave our time and resources to mount and promote the show entirely free of any charges for eight years, as we felt then and still feel now that there remains a huge untapped market within the Caribbean.

The idea was that the event would be built into a showcase for the region, partially reversing the millions over the years that have been spent by our tourism planners to travel to London and Berlin for the annual World Travel Market and ITB shows.

What better way to promote our tourism offerings than to bring overseas travel agents and tour operators in greater numbers to sample product in person.

Hopefully now under a restructured Barbados tourism national marketing agency and new enlightened thinking, our policymakers will re-consider supporting the re-DISCOVER the Caribbean show.

Barbados still remains the only Caribbean nation that successfully put together a truly dedicated intra-regional consumer and travel trade event, which captured the interest and participation of more than 20 tourism driven countries.

Plus with the new direct twice weekly flight from Bogota in Colombia, there is a wealth of opportunity to include destinations along the southern Caribbean coast.

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