Barbados is seeing a renewed tourism boom. The island known for rum, culture and refined luxury reported record arrivals in the first half, and has even bigger plans ahead. To learn more about the country’s tourism priorities, Caribbean Journal caught up with Petra Roach, director for the US market at Barbados Tourism Marketing Inc.
What is the outlook for Barbados tourism in 2015 and the forecast for the 2015-2016 high season?
We expect to finish the US market to finish the year with a 25 percent increase over 2014, which is significant growth. This is being done in a very systematic way to ensure its viability. We have been extremely strategic in terms of analyzing the US visitor to Barbados by their age demographic, gender, geographical location, the distribution channels they are using, length of stay, where they are staying etc. This then informs our marketing and advertising activity. Currently we are seeing exponential growth in the villa market as well as in the 36-to-45 year old age category which currently represents 29.7 percent of our overall business. persons attending weddings are also 23.7 percent up over last year.
We have been extremely strategic in terms of analyzing the US visitor to Barbados.”
Above all, we have a team that is invigorated, energetic, and hungry for the business with very clear strategic objectives in terms of where we want the market to grow. We anticipate that within the next five years the US market will exceed the 200,000 visitation mark. In order to achieve this, we are working assiduously with our airline partners as ultimately we want to ensure that we provide a product that is convenient, accessible, and offers a good value proposition. Our priority at the moment is ensuring that we open a few more gateways and ensuring the commercial viability of those we currently have.
Talk about the new Tourism authority structure in Barbados. How does it work with the hotels, restaurants and all tourism stakeholders?
The challenge was that with the previous entity the main focus was on marketing and the product development got a bit left behind. The two have to work in tandem as we have to ensure that we are providing a product that is relevant and keeping up to date with the developing trends. With the privatization of the BTMI, the objective was to develop a leaner outfit which could respond rapidly to the demands of the market as well as engage in commercial activity which could generate funds to be reinvested into our activity. The organization has been divided for almost a year, so it’s no longer that new and already we are seeing such strong results which reinforces the fact that the decision was a solid one. However, we certainly are not about to rest on our laurels because of our current success, instead we want to capitalize on this current trajectory of growth.
What about the relationship with the Barbados Hotel and Tourism Association?
We have a very solid relationship with the BHTA – Each of us brings something to the table whether it is financial, human resources or through aggressive offers from their members. We collaborate on most of our marketing initiatives and I feel strongly that this is a major determinant of the success of our business.
Above: Petra Roach
What are the largest challenges facing Barbados as a tourist destination?
The biggest challenge that we have from the US relates to the limited number of gateway cities we have – customers are so time sensitive that in most cases convenience is one of the major determinants on where they holiday. Having said that, we have significant lift from the Tri-State Area, which has a population of over 18 million — so this region also offers massive potential for further growth to Barbados.
We are also not a mass-market destination, so selling Barbados cannot be purely on a price proposition – as such we are actively targeting those niches in which we have a strong USP – sailing, surfing, polo, car racing, epicureans to name a few. We are writing our story so that it unfolds in a relevant and meaningful way to these audiences. The reality is that there is a large percentage of this population who are looking for a more customized experience which relates to their hobbies and passions rather than just fly and flop – and for that they are willing to pay a bit more. I really do think that Barbados dominates the niche which I shall call “soft adventure.”
We are writing our story so that it unfolds in a relevant and meaningful way to these audiences.”
We are also reengaging the [travel] trade with a steep, rather aggressive, educational and incentive program to ensure that they have Barbados top of mind and the best way to do that is to ensure that they experience the island themselves. We now have a core group of 250 agents who give us 80 percent of the business and they will be the focus rather than the 6,000 we were previously working with.