The following is the second part of a most interesting extract from Travel Agent Central, written after Barbados hosted a group of travel agents here last month.
by Joe Pike
Joe Pike, Travel Agent magazine: Give me a specific example of how social media led to a specific sale. For the Barbados tourism people in the room, how is Barbados using social media to promote the destination?
Emily Fisher of VIP Vacations, Inc.: Pictures sell — especially if they are personal pictures and not just the ones off of a resort’s website. I actually posted a picture on Facebook of the view from my room (at Ocean Two Resort & Residences) and in a matter of 10 minutes, it got 42 “likes”.
So you always have people talking about it. You always have friends asking, “Where is that?” or, “Are there any deals to that place coming up?”
Zachary Moses of HE Travel: We try to get everybody to interact with us on Facebook rather than just spewing our marketing out on the site. If we can get people to communicate with us, then we get to know them, learn about their interests and find out where they want to go.
An example is: We’re organizing our new tour in Palau right now and I put up a picture that had a scuba diver and split above him was someone ziplining, with a little verse that said, “Where would you rather go?” or something like that. Somebody commented, “We’ve been on several of your diving tours and we can’t wait until you guys have a new one. I replied immediately saying, “actually we’re having a new Palau trip.”
The Palau trip is not even on our website yet, but this guy and his partner have already booked the Palau trip that’s not even announced publicly yet and they’ve already put their deposits in beforehand. That was done just by interacting.
Eusi Skeete, Barbados Tourism Authority: With Barbados, we also use social media. We have Facebook, Twitter and Instagram and we manage various elements of our social media campaign. We have different contests as well, of course, to learn about the destination on Facebook.
It’s great for awareness but I think we all know that. I mean people are buying it and it’s certainly something about the destination that we believe in, and we use [social media] to get the best performance out there and more. So that’s what we keep doing and we bring in our agent community too as it relates to social media.
For example, the agencies that we visit may not be in this demographic; they might be a bit older and still trying to get things in the social media space. So we can actually sit with the agents to do a private consultation with one of us, maybe to help them get a Facebook page set-up.
Melissa Chalbaud, Ocean Two Resort & Residences: From a hotel perspective, we can use it to differentiate ourselves because everyone can read our website, find descriptions about us and compare us with other hotels. To add to our uniqueness quotient, I’ve even posted videos of our beach attendants setting up a happy hour and stuff like that.
So, people who have been here and experienced these will comment on such posts and those who comment will evoke more interest and queries. These are just little things that allow you to set yourself apart, which you cannot achieve as effectively through a traditional website or the media.
Joe Pike, Travel Agent magazine: What can Barbados improve upon? And this could be many things — airlift, roads, infrastructure, anything like that. What could make the destination even better?
Zachary Moses of HE Travel: Make it gay. I’m serious. It’s not just for our clients but in general, especially in the United States right now, everything that is in the media is all about equality and that’s why I asked the question, “Are you guys doing gay marriage yet?”
If Barbados says, “yeah, we’ll marry gay people,” you get a whole bunch of rich people, affluent people coming to Barbados just because they can get married and they don’t have to wait. And then, just the gay friendliness of a destination matters.
The gay community starts going to a destination and they think that it’s a nice place and everybody else follows suit. But the gay community is usually the first set who start saying this is the destination that we want to go to. They start buying properties and renovating and before you know it, the straight community follows suit saying it must be a nice place. So honestly, Barbados has to cater to gays.
Eusi Skeete, Barbados Tourism Authority: The Caribbean doesn’t really feel comfortable to do so because we are quite conservative in our overall culture, but if anyone has a request I will work to meet it. It doesn’t matter to me at all but it’s not something that, I think, any of the tourist boards have been anxious in pursuing for one reason or another. At the end of the day, you have to understand the culture of the destination as well.
Joe Pike, Travel Agent magazine: Can a gay couple come here and feel comfortable being here? Can they hold hands in public without being harassed?
Melissa Chalbaud, Ocean Two Resort & Residences: Absolutely. Yeah, I would say so. I mean definitely at Ocean Two. I know from our staff — even in terms of training our staff — it’s completely acceptable. No one is supposed to make any sort of snide comments or stares, but the training matters because it’s not something that they are faced with on a regular basis.
Eusi Skeete, Barbados Tourism Authority: When I think gay-friendly, I think about a place that allows anyone to come to a destination and have a complete experience without feeling compromised in any way.
I feel that anyone who comes to Barbados can feel comfortable enough in the destination and not be harassed — you can go out and certainly enjoy the good food, definitely be a part of the attractions, and have a good time.
But I would still say that I don’t see us necessarily promoting Barbados as a gay-friendly destination in the near future. But at the same time, you won’t see us discriminate against anyone because of their difference of choices.
Dominic Hill, Journeys Thru Paradise: Just to add on to that, I’d like to point out that we always ask clients what they loved the most about Barbados. It’s not the accommodations; it’s not the airlift — it’s the people that make Barbados. They are very friendly and will accept anyone and everyone.