It so happens sometimes, with great irony, that great adversity can lead to great opportunity. There is an interesting development that has occurred in the United States in the aftermath of the devastating recession of a few years ago that proves this point –– certainly from a Barbadian export perspective.
During the sharp downturn in the United States economy, which had global repercussions and was described as the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression of almost 100 years ago, millions lost their homes, jobs, life savings and other prized material possessions.
This devastating experience has apparently caused Americans to reassess their priorities in terms of what is really important in life, and has resulted in a fundamental shift in how they spend money. Consumers are choosing to spend on fun activities instead of amassing material possessions.
According to a recently released study by market research firm Mintel, two areas that are seeing a significant increase in consumer spending, in the context of an improving economy, are entertainment and tourism.
It is estimated that the vacations and tourism segment of the United States economy has grown by 27 per cent between 2010 and last year, making a market worth $233 billion. For Barbados, a tourism-dependent economy that counts the United States among its top three source markets, this development is obviously great news that speaks to a great opportunity for our top export.
Identifying and capitalizing on favourable opportunities when they present themselves in the global marketplace has always been pivotal to the success of export-driven industries like tourism and the achievement of economic growth in the countries where they are based. Let’s hope our tourism marketers are on the ball.
As we ourselves look to shake off the ravages of the global recession from which we are only now beginning to recover, even though the global recession officially ended in June, 2009, every available opportunity that offers a realistic promise of bolstering economic growth must be exploited to the fullest extent possible.
What is causing Americans to be spending less on material things and more on fun-giving experiences like a vacation or “experiental purchases” as they are called? One explanation establishes a link to a search for happiness. Studies have found that taking a vacation, especially if it provides fond memories to last a lifetime, is more happiness-providing than buying a diamond ring, for example.
Quoting from the findings of a 2011 University of California, Riverside research paper which was published in the Journal Of Consumer Psychology, a Market Watch article observed: “Happy people are happy from the abundance of their experiences; not their possessions, a finding that even holds true for highly materialistic people.”
Besides, the point was made that while possessions break or lose their value, experiences do not. Furthermore, evidence was cited that buying material things can sometimes lead to unhappiness, as people eventually grow tired of what they have, developing a yearning for new things, which they eventually grow tired of as well. Hence, they find themselves caught in a vicious cycle trying to satisfy wants, while happiness remains elusive.
The pervasive influence of social media was identified as another major factor behind the fundamental spending shift.
“People see others sharing their experiences on social media and want to have those experiences,” Market Watch quoted a Mintel official as saying.
There are obvious lessons from these research findings for us in Barbados as well, seeing that we have become a noticeably more materialistic society with many persons competing against each other in the accumulation of material possessions. Perhaps, we too need to undergo a process of introspection, as the harsh effects of the recession have driven Americans to do, and determine what really matters in our own search for happiness.
Meanwhile, the robust demand among Americans for tourism and entertainment presents opportunities we should not allow to pass by. We hope, over the coming year, to receive news of a significant growth in United States visitor arrivals and spending. We also hope the favourable environment will open the door for more Barbadian entertainers, with the right marketing, to strike it big in the American market, following in the footsteps of our illustrious trailblazer Rihanna.
Such an achievement would be a big economic boost for Barbados at this critical juncture.