Lagging on tourism
On page 35 of today’s issue of Barbados TODAY, veteran hotelier and former president of the Barbados Hotel and Tourism Association, Alvin Jemmott, in his You’re welcome column offers a very vivid reminder of the challenges that are ahead of us.
Jemmott, the general manager of Divi Southwinds Hotel, notes that the 2012/13 winter tourist season is rapidly coming to a close and that already the tough times that have become synonymous with summer appear to be staring us directly in the face.
The frank-talking hotelier has therefore issued a call to arms to colleagues in the sector, administrators and Barbadians generally. We recognise that part of our modus operandi in this country is to pat ourselves on the back and vigorously stroke our egos to help convince ourselves that somehow we are special.
Wake up folks! You may not like to hear it, but we are no more special than anyone else, and unless we compel the rest of the world to look up and consider us as a viable alternative vacation destination we are going to continue to lament the abundance of empty rooms come the end of April — and all the hardships that are associated with such a situation.
While the rumours have been flying left, right and centre over the last 48 hours about who will or will not be the post-election Minister of Tourism, it ought to be clear to all that while the person who holds this portfolio is important, turning tourism around will take input from a lot more than that minister.
We sincerely hope that the entire Cabinet, and the chairman of that body, Prime Minister Freundel Stuart understand and appreciate the gravity of the situation — and that the rest of Barbados accepts that all the policies and incentives they put in place will be worth nothing if the experience we offer our guests does not match and surpass what they would have experience elsewhere, or even here on prior visits.
We also take careful note of Jemmotts’ discourse on the attractiveness of incentives being offered by competing destinations, particularly because there are some policy makers who have become fond of suggesting that “price does not matter — we are a high quality destination and tourists know it”. A suggestion perhaps that we are so special people will pay whatever price we set for the to vacation here.
Maybe they do know best, but our gut suggests that when tourists are being offered $300 in savings in the Bahamas if they stay six nights or longer; $300 or $200 instant credit depending on how many nights they stay in St. Croix; kids free with adults paying full fare in Cancun; and every fourth night free in Bermuda, sentimental rhetoric just will not cut it. The same way we set out to stretch each dollar to its maximum each day, our tourists also do the same.
Our industry players and their public sector support partners need to sit, discuss and come up with sensible incentives that suggest we are serious about competing with these destinations. Our industry has to rebuild the island’s visibility in the source markets as all indications are that we are lagging way behind competitors whose economic circumstances would suggest they have less to spend than we do.
And nationally we need to get our people into a frame of mind that states that we clearly understand that no matter how much money we spend in promotions, its effects can all be quickly undone by a few criminal miscreants or workers who behave as though the people they are suppose to serve are an imposition on their time.
We have a long way to go if we are to crawl out of the hole we are now in.