Tenets of Barbados’ tourism product and its marketing system are old and outdated and in order for the industry to escape this rut and grow, the sector needs a fresh approach.
This point was made during a webinar held on Monday to mark the 70th anniversary of the Barbados Hotel and Tourism Association (BHTA).
Panelist, tourism consultant Dr Kerry Hall, said the tourism model Barbados had was established in the early 20th century and it was time for much-needed change.
While speaking about her PHD research, she said: “In the interwar years is when I first saw winter rates and summer rates appear . . . the seasonality came and we indoctrinated the world and in all of the promotional efforts climatic conditions were used.
“Sunny Barbados, wintry, cold, foggy, rainy, horrible New York and London; come to where the breeze is blowing, the invigorating breezes, the even temperature, the warm water, and so on.
“So the narrative played on the mind. Sand, sea and sun, those climatic things. It was winter tourism, ‘come to Barbados for the winter season’. There was no real attempt for year-round…Then they broke it into two (winter and summer). That model of seasonality has lasted for over 100 years.”
The consultant said that there has been a drastic change in visitors and the visitors in this era wanted more out of their experience. She said they wanted cultural heritage, culinary and health and wellness experiences, agro-tourism experiences, community experiences and more.
“Those don’t have to be between November and April. They do not concern any type of climatic [conditions]. You can do any one of them in the rain. So you don’t have anymore with this sand, sea and sun.
We have so indoctrinated the world that the Caribbean is the place to come when it is cold up north and warm down south that the world only ever really comes when it is cold up north and warm down south.
“Coupled with the fact that we have done a poor job of developing the other sectors to show that we are more than a beach, rich in culture, [have the] best food in the world [and the] best people. We were the pioneers of health and wellness tourism in the world and now that health and wellness is the fastest growing niche, we should be going to market saying we are the pioneers, come to Barbados.”
Dr Hall said Barbados historically was at the forefront of tourism in the world and by now we should be teaching the world how things were done in the industry and setting trends.
She added that there should be more authenticity to the tourism product and standards in the industry should not be set by foreign interests. The industry, she said, would advance beyond measure if Barbadians and things Barbados were at the epicenter of the tourism product.
According to her, Barbadians were stuck in a post-colonial mindset that everything white or foreign was good and everything black and local was inferior. She said that when all levels of society overcame this mindset the true potential of the tourism product would be realised.
“If we do it differently and create pathways for our artists and our artisans and our people to showcase their supreme talent to the world, first we have to believe in Barbados; believe that Barbados is the best country in the world and that our people are the most talented.”
Dr Hall added that from a historical point of view, tourism had now become the ‘monocrop’ of Barbados with its predecessor ‘King Sugar’ and while it was important for the economy to diversify, any upcoming industry should thrive in a coexisting relationship with tourism.
She said tourism had proven to be a viable sector that stimulated economic prosperity for the island. She noted that the island’s tourism product had so much to offer and on which we are not capitalising.
“I do believe that we should be diversifying the economy but I don’t believe that it should be death to tourism for something else to happen. Tourism is not stopping anybody from coming with an alternate economic industry. And the fact that we have not done it after all these years, my question is, is it that we can’t get it done or is there nothing else that can be done?
“Instead of cursing tourism, just bring the alternate industry and let it run up next to tourism, complement tourism. We know tourism is a fickle industry and when the global industry collapses we collapse, so if it collapses this sector would keep us afloat.
“If it is not if, it is when the next crisis will strike. This volatility is a part of the future. So what I’m saying is don’t necessarily call for tourism’s head. What we need to do is, do tourism differently.” (SZB)