The following is a most interest extract from Travel Agent Central, written after Barbados hosted a group of travel agents here last month.
by Joe Pike
As part of Travel Agent magazine’s second annual Destination Immersion, in which we treat some of our most recent 30Under30 winners to an all-expense paid fam trip to Barbados, agents and tourism officials took part in a roundtable discussion to tackle some burning topics surrounding this popular Caribbean hot spot.
From the impact of new, well-known hotel brands on the island to selling the destination via social media to the destination’s stance on LGBT travel, attendees engaged in a healthy discussion that produced a wealth of selling points for agents looking to sell this Caribbean gem.
In attendance were moderator Joe Pike, Travel Agent magazine; Samantha Erickson, Luxury Travel Exchange International; Eusi Skeete, Barbados Tourism Authority; Kim Thorpe, Barbados Tourism Authority; Janelle Murray, Barbados Hotel & Tourism Association; Melissa Chalbaud, Ocean Two Resort & Residences; Dominic Hill, managing director of tour operator Journeys Thru Paradise; Heather Hice-Mitchel, The Travel Authority: A Leisure Division of Altour; Miriam Geiser, MoonRings; Jacque Miller, Journeys by Jacque; Anna Fields Cropper, All Inclusive Outlet; Emily Fisher, VIP Vacations, Inc.; Zachary Moses, HE Travel; Michael Majcherczyk, Classic Travel; Ryan Mielke, Regency Travel; Bernadette Sperrazza, The World Awaits Travel; Melissa Pugh, Jet Set World Travel; Ashley Walker, TravelSmiths; and Jessica Sussman, Frosch International Travel.
Following are some highlights from the discussion:
Joe Pike, Travel Agent magazine: Tell me if you sell Barbados. If you don’t sell it at all, then why not? If you do sell it, who do you usually target?
Ashley Walker, TravelSmiths: Yes, we do sell it 100 per cent. I think it’s very easily accessible from the New Jersey/New York area, because there are non-stop flights out of JFK Airport.
I think people really like Barbados because they are always looking for something exotic and different and this place is just that. I’ve been recently selling the destination to a lot of couples and I’ve sent a few people to Sandy Lane (Hotel) before.
Emily Fisher, VIP Vacations, Inc.: I personally haven’t sold Barbados, but I know our agency has. I’m very excited about the new Couples property because I know it’s going to be big a sell. I always tell clients that I stopped here once on a cruise and got to spend a day.
I make sure I describe the five stops that I had during the journey, and how Barbados definitely has the nicest people. So I’m hoping to learn a little bit more about the island and its different hotels, then hopefully get the ball rolling.
Bernadette Sperrazza, The World Awaits Travel: I had a client who wanted to have her honeymoon somewhere in the Caribbean. So I threw Barbados out there as an option, along with some others. She was like, ‘Hey, you know I’ve heard a lot about Barbados.’ At that point, she really just wanted to learn more about it. Now that I have been promoting the destination actively, she’s definitely got her heart set on coming to Barbados. We’re just kind of narrowing it down on where to stay.
Joe Pike, Travel Agent magazine: For the Barbados tourism people, give us an idea of where you see the destination’s core market heading to in the next 10 years.
Eusi Skeete, Barbados Tourism Authority: I think that we recognise the value of Barbados. And the people do too. More and more clients are demanding all-inclusives, but what we found recently is that as people become exposed to Barbados as a destination, there are a lot of things they are interested in that don’t necessarily mean all-inclusive.
At first, they want to stay at an all-inclusive perhaps because they don’t think there’s any reason to leave the resort. Then I tell them about something special on the beach or doing the water submarine dive and having champagne and hors d’oeuvres served.
I talk to them about doing something experiential, like ‘you could have the island’s top chefs come in and cook with you and your spouse.’ These are the things that make a trip memorable and when you have a hotel that’s equipped, like with a full kitchen, it’s easy to do these kinds of things that make a real difference.
Joe Pike, Travel Agent magazine: Barbados recently added the Radisson Aquatica Resort Barbados and the all-inclusive Couples Barbados, the first Couples outside of Jamaica. What impact does the addition of well-known, branded hotels have on selling a destination?
Heather Hice-Mitchel, The Travel Authority: I think it makes it easier for first-time clients. Especially, once they’re here and they experience this, they are going to be more comfortable coming to a resort that they don’t necessarily know. So I think that will actually help.
Ryan Mielke, Regency Travel: For me, when I book these people, I feel bad sending them to branded hotels. If they want to stay at a Radisson, a Marriott or hotels of that sort, they could probably go down the street and stay there. If they’re going to go abroad, I would rather put them somewhere authentic, some place where they’re going to experience the island, people, food and everything there is to know about.
I try not to do the brands. It’s probably good for marketing, but sending my clients to a place like Barbados and having them stay at a setting that’s so familiar like a Radisson — I feel I would be robbing my clients of the chance to truly experience the place.
Jessica Sussman, Frosch International Travel: One of the reasons people use a travel agent like me — and hopefully are happy with the service I provide — is because I do things like compiling restaurant lists, cultural events, doing a lot of research to find activities and things to see that really cater to the clients’ interests. Why would they go to an agent to book an all-inclusive (like Couples Barbados) if they can do it themselves?
Emily Fisher, VIP Vacations, Inc: I think it all really depends on the clients. If they’re kind of nervous to go to a different destination, it will break the ice to have a more popular branded resort. And then once they pay a visit, I think they’ll be a lot more likely to come back and even stay somewhere like Ocean Two.
Michael Majcherczyk, Classic Travel: I don’t think it’s all that important to have that branded hotel or resort here because Barbados is not a mass market. The place is kind of different and tends to appeal to a particular crowd. It’s got a unique feel and boasts its own island experience. So I don’t think our clientele really needs assurance that there’s a Radisson or whatever.
But when it comes to using a travel agent, I think they come to you for your expertise so that you can recommend a smaller boutique hotel. They’ll trust you and look forward to a great experience. From a marketing perspective, brands do add value, but in my opinion, at least for my clientele, having a Radisson or other big names doesn’t matter much.
Jacque Miller, Journeys by Jacque: I could go both ways. I have clients that don’t know brands or anything about the Caribbean, so they just rely on my recommendations. That’s our job. They don’t have to know the hotel or be familiar with it, because that’s why I’m there. I can tell them where to go.
Miriam Geiser, MoonRings: Your clients trust you for your expertise and since this is obviously a luxury destination with some budget-friendly properties, it’s all about figuring out what’s important to them and then suggesting a specific hotel. But clients do have brand loyalty. For example, you might have clients who only like to stay at Four Seasons. So emergence of brands here could make a difference.
Anna Fields Cropper, All Inclusive Outlet: It’s good to have a branded hotel, especially one that people are loyal to. It will get the Couples clients in Jamaica calling about the one in Barbados. It will get these people thinking about Barbados. When they come, they will see other hotels and perhaps stay there the next time around, but I think that the brand they are loyal to will be the initial factor that attracts them to a new destination.
Zachary Moses, HE Travel: I see it as a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it will probably bring more people to Barbados, but on the other hand, when the big brands come in, they usually bring with them their loyalty programs and soon I find that my clients went directly with the hotel instead of going through us.