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Event Driven Tourism
Posted: Monday, March 21, 2011

By Derren Joseph
March 21, 2011

Last week the Barbados Advocate carried a story about the Barbados Tourism Authority (the BTA) being allocated BD$92 million or US$46 million for the fiscal year 2011-2012. The BTA is structured differently from our Tourism Development Company (TDC) in T&T in that their focus is purely on marketing (as is the equivalent agency in Jamaica) whereas our TDC has to engage in infrastructure projects as well. The article was unclear as to whether the US$46 million was purely for marketing or whether the funds included recurrent expenditure for BTA operations. Regardless, this allocation is considerably more than our TDC. Some commentators would quickly point to this as support for their argument that the TDC’s allocations also need to be increased. My thinking is that such an increase would be hard to justify unless there is first a shift in TDC strategy.

In the influential TTG online trade magazine last week, there was an article called "Barbados targets event-driven tourism." Here David Rice, president and chief executive of the BTA, explains that the authority will use "event-led tourism to maintain its rising visitor numbers and counter the effects of rising oil prices." Rice has therefore done two very important things. Firstly, he established that the money he received in the previous year was well spent as evidenced by rising visitor numbers. Secondly, he explains the strategy that will be used in the future to boost this positive trend—event driven tourism. It is only the middle of March and the BTA is already reporting on their January/February 2011 numbers. The BTA reports that "… we built up some momentum in January and February—when 35 per cent of our forward bookings for the year usually happen—and saw a 7.5 per cent rise in bookings for these months on the same time in 2010."

We should also recognise that at a time when the UK economy is going through some challenges, bookings from the UK were up 13.5 per cent over the same period. I need to explain why the BTA’s UK bookings are very impressive. Not only is the UK economy under pressure, but the UK has recently launched a tourism strategy that discourages outbound travel. Yes, I am very serious here. The Travel Weekly trade magazine reports that the new UK tourism strategy aims to increase the proportion of Brits holidaying in the UK to European levels and UK tour operators could be asked to help by developing domestic holidays. Tourism Minister John Penrose at the Department for Culture Media and Sport noted that the strategy states that it wants to see domestic breaks grow from the current 20 per cent of all longer-stay trips (four nights or more) to 29 per cent. This would equate to an additional 4.5 million domestic trips a year, £1.3 billion more spent and 26,000 more jobs, and go some way to addressing the UK’s tourism trade deficit that stands roughly at 2:1 in favour of foreign holidays.

So in the face of a UK policy that is actively discouraging foreign trips and a tough UK economy, Barbados visitor numbers are still growing. I am among those who have been consistent in calling for our tourism sector to come up with a workable strategy. To be fair, our Ministry of Tourism has done its part because like its counterpart in the UK, they have already produced a National Tourism Policy. So the ball is now in the court of the TDC, to translate this policy framework into a strategic plan here in T&T. Our TDC should not seek to mimic anyone else, but seeing that our biggest tourism "product" is already carnival, it follows logically that we should be ahead of the game when it comes to "event driven tourism." Barbados is hosting a Football Legends Invitational Tournament on June 10-11, featuring former Premiership players including Alan Shearer, Gianfranco Zola, Rob Lee and Andrew Cole; a Barbados sports camp for nine to 17-year-olds on August 2-26; and the Clobi Cricket Legends Cup on November 11-20. There is also the annual Barbados Food and Wine and Rum Festival on November 18-21, and "huge music events in 2011". Rice concludes that, "our visitor numbers for this year, excluding cruise, will finish about 6 per cent up on 2010."

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