The summer season has failed to deliver on the anticipated increased tourist arrivals and has been “deathly quiet for new bookings”, according to one hotel executive.
Sales and Marketing Manager for Ocean Hotels Barbados Jacqui McDermott told Barbados TODAY that while expectations were high just before the Crop Over season, with many visitors from the island’s key markets showing high interest in travelling here for the first edition of the festival since 2019, the expected increased numbers did not materialise.
She said coupled with high ticket prices, the situation had left the industry in limbo with little to no growth in bookings over the past few months.
“Where that has left the industry right now in the summer is that the flights are full, there are very few flight seats left. The airlines are trying to recoup the money they would have lost over the last two years, so they are holding their flight seat prices which are actually super expensive and uncompetitive, even to [other] islands in the Caribbean or other destinations like Dubai or Mexico.
“So when we started the summer thinking ‘great, we have a fabulous base, we are just going to need to top it up, it’s going to be one of the best summers ever’, that has not transpired at all and it has been deathly quiet for new bookings for the summer,” McDermott said at the close of what has been dubbed a successful 2022 Crop Over Festival.
She explained that although some of the smaller hotels may have seen satisfactory numbers for the summer, the larger hotels who often relied on new bookings at this time of year, rather than bookings made in advance, were left with very low accommodation rates, despite constant airlift into the island.
“The O2 Beach Club, which is a new property, did not have the deferred booking base [and] has really struggled this summer, sitting at a very low percentage occupancy-wise without any ability from me to market or change that in any way. People can’t swim here, the only way they can get here is to fly. If there are no [additional] flight seats and prices are super high, people are going to choose somewhere else…. It’s been a super struggle” McDermott said.
“Traditionally, in the past, what we would do is to look to the airlines like Virgin, BA [British Airways], and JetBlue and say the demand is there, but they have their own stories to tell. If we asked JetBlue to put on more flights, it’s a higher risk financially for them. Virgin Atlantic, who would have traditionally supported us in the past, have released their leased planes back so they don’t have the extra planes that they used to, to say ‘look the demand is there, let’s use the extra planes’. BA have the planes but they have no [staff],” the hotel executive further lamented.
McDermott pointed out that the slow summer season was also due, in part, to source markets going through recession-like economic downturns, particularly the United Kingdom which has been facing a cost of living crisis for several months now.
She contended that the industry’s problems are multidimensional, with no single solution, even as she indicated that the tourism sector could, tentatively, fare better in the upcoming winter season.
“Winter is looking better but I would still caution that the UK is headed into one of its biggest recessions…. People are having their utility bills double in price, they are having their gas prices doubling, and the flight prices are still super high because of the fuel supplements the airlines are putting on their flight prices, so to me there is a super caution.
“The demand is there, we just have to make sure that we can encourage people to come even with the high flight prices. [For] next summer, we are already talking to the Government on different ways that we can try and not have a summer like this one and increase the airlift into the island because it is all about a seat-to-bed ratio. You have got to have a good number of flight seats to match the beds you have to sell, otherwise, rooms will be sitting empty,” she said.
McDermott added that while there is the option of trying to entice visitors from regions such as the Middle East or Central America, it is not practical at this stage given that airlift remains a challenge. It was, therefore, best to focus on the existing markets, she suggested.
“As much as you target those markets, it’s super hard to get people here without the airlift, and the airlift comes from the US, UK, and Canada. So it would be simply sticking a plaster on a large wound. It’s not that it’s not going to help but it takes a vast amount of money to start up a destination.
“The UK, the US, and the Canadian markets are our three biggest markets. We need to make sure we are up front and centre and competitive in those markets with our marketing plan. Then, sure, let’s look at other places like South America – at least that has a geographical connection, but we have a bit of a language barrier,” McDermott added.