A focus on quality product development will be critical to the continued success of the region’s tourism industry, says a leading members of the country’s management team.
Director of Tourism Development in the Ministry of Tourism Dr Kerry Hall made this key observation during a panel discussion on the final day of the fourth Caribbean-International Tourism Conference at the University of the West Indies, Cave Hill Campus which had as its theme Navigating the Destination of the Future.
Hall said Barbados and other Caribbean destinations can no longer think of tourism simply as a “heads in beds and buns in seats” industry. She noted, however, that the notion of product development has not received the attention and focus it should have in the last several decades.
Today that focus is consumer driven and needs to be coupled with a more strategic approach by the destinations.
“There has been this over-emphasis on marketing and what we have been doing is marketing a pretty sub-standard product,” said Hall.
“If we as destinations are not reconfiguring our tourism models, resetting our compasses and getting a lot more proactive, nimble and adaptive, we will find ourselves on the short end of the global tourism stick,” she warned.
The tourism official explained that while there were still many tourists who travelled to the region to enjoy the sun and sea, perhaps the “special interest” travellers were transforming tourism the most.
Stating that the success or failure of any destination was now being determined by their capacity to meet, exceed, and deliver on the expectations of “these new travellers”, Dr Hall said destinations must employ a more strategic, targeted and scientific approach in order to meet their needs.
“I dare say these types of travellers are the ones we are looking for here as the region has to move towards taking more of a quality versus a quantity approach to its tourism development,” said Hall.
“We need to take a balanced approach where we deliver on their expectations while also ensuring that the greater good of our destinations is served through sustainable and responsible development,” she said, adding that the region was in need of a year-round tourism product.
Adding that the region should focus more on developing niche areas in culture, sustainability, volunteerism, eco-tourism and sports tourism, Hall said “We should have done it already but either way I am just happy that we have reached this point.
“All of this product diversification and differentiation is inherently good particularly for the region. It indigenizes and democratizes the tourism industry in a way that is unprecedented, and this is the only way this industry is going to work. This industry is not how we have been running it for many years – heads in beds and buns in seats – where the destination is the hotel and not the actual destination itself, where the marketing budget is 10 or 20 times more than the product budget,” she said.
Outgoing Chief Executive Officer of the Barbados Tourism Marketing Inc. (BTMI) William Billy Griffith pointed out that traditional marketing strategies were quickly become obsolete, adding that advanced research would ensure the region appealed to the “right customer”, piquing their interest.
He said that social media was playing a critical role in the decision-making of would-be travellers.
“Traditional marketing alone is no longer effective in destination marketing. Instead, we must harness the power of stories that are generated from within our destination, those that resonate with our visitors’ personal passions. Today, the engaging stories about the destination are most often created by the consumers themselves,” he said.