PARADISE ISLAND, Bahamas – Bringing more high-end travellers to Caribbean shores rather than simply growing visitor arrival numbers could be the key to boosting tourism fortunes, a leading figure in the travel industry has suggested here.
“It is not that you need more customers during peak season. You need the right customers – high yielding customers who stay longer, spend more money and more likely to return,” Chief Marketing Officer of Travel Leaders Group Stephen McGillivray said.
“You need better seasonal dispersal in your shoulder and off-season,” he advised.
Adding that the Caribbean had “something very special” to offer the rest of the world, the travel marketing expert told the dozens of regional tourism officials at the State of the Industry Conference (SOTIC) 2018 that they should “preserve what we have here”.
The annual Caribbean Tourism Organization (CTO) conference is being held at the Atlantis resort here under the theme ‘Rejuvenate, Recreate, Reconnect – New Directions for Caribbean Tourism’.
“Targeting luxury travellers also helps to boost your base of travellers. They are less affected by economic downturns [and] they spend more on shopping and dining. You need fewer visitors to have the same positive economic impact,” he said.
It was critical for tourism officials to form closer ties with travel agencies and travel advisors to promote their destinations, McGillivray said.
“One solution is to work together to address overcrowding in tourism. One way to do that is by attracting higher spending travellers rather than focusing only on volume,” he insisted.
Stating that travel agents remain relevant despite social media and other technological advancements that help to promote destinations, McGillivray urged tourism officials to partner more with travel advisors.
“We believe strongly in the power of partnerships,” he said.
“As we look to the future, I urge you to work closely with your travel agency partners,” he added, while pointing out that this could help destinations safeguard against misperceptions and fake news about the region.
He said the region did not need multi-million-dollar tourism budgets in order to run successful marketing campaigns, while encouraging industry players to make necessary changes to how they market their destination.
Too often, the focus was on price point and promotional offers, suggesting that officials should pay close attention to the power of social media and experiences being shared by other travelers, he said.
“There is a secret sauce in an effective social media campaign,” he said, adding “it is all about strategic marketing partnerships”.
Asked about travel agents running the risk of selling one island over another in light of his call for greater partnerships with them, McGillivray gave the assurance that travel agents would always focus on “what is best for their customers”.
“If they don’t, it is a short-lived relationship. Travel agents want lifetime value for their customers they want them to return,” he said, adding that in some cases it should be expected that travel agents would guide customers to places they “may know better than the other”.
“That is why you want the agents to be as educated on your destination…. There are differences in the islands and learning those differences that is how you start to guide them through,” he explained.
Responding to questions regarding the shared economy, given his call for a focus on luxury travellers, McGillivray told Barbados TODAY he was hopeful that shared accommodation business such as Airbnb, would “embrace” retail travel distribution.
In Barbados, Airbnb offers homes and private rooms for as low as US$30 per night, which some tourism officials see as competition for traditional hotel accommodation.
McGillivray acknowledged this could take some business away from traditional accommodation, but suggested that shared accommodation operators also join forces with travel agents.
“I think they will see that it is to their advantage to work with travel agents. That is only my guess. Today they don’t and probably lots of people say they never will, but my sense is you see Uber doing it, Lyft does it. So, will Airbnb do it? Today they don’t. And does that pull away some business from a hotel, sure because it is successful, but I think we will see the day when they embrace retail distribution,” said McGillivray.