Tourism MATTERS: We’re missing a huge opportunity
Imagine having a virtually captive audience, motivated by all the right reasons and that is larger than your main source tourism market, the United Kingdom.
That’s perhaps how we should be viewing the world’s first and probably the most successful loyalty programme, American Airlines AAdvantage. Last year their 66 million members redeemed more than 165 billion miles to claim nearly 7.2 million awards for flights, upgrades and other rewards.
Why do I consider it such an important tool to drive higher arrival numbers?
These people through their smart spending choices are accumulating the means to travel. In fact it goes beyond that now. Since last November, the programme has been expanded to allow members to redeem miles for car hire and hotel stays at more than 10,000 locations in 320 destinations worldwide.
There is also the flexibility of using only miles or a combination of cash plus as few as 1,000 AAdvantage miles.
Even during a recession, many are reluctant to forgo a holiday, but
obtaining perceived value for money and how travellers can maximise depleted earnings become even more important factors in destination choices.
The availability of airline seats often coincides with our softer occupancy periods too, and this presents us with an incredible opportunity to fill rooms that may ordinarily remain empty or can only be sold at highly discounted rates.
Take the period between 7th September and 14th November, AAdvantage reduces its mileage requirement to 25,000 for a return economy ticket from any city it services in North America to Barbados.
Some taxes are still payable but in the case say, from our new mid-western gateway, Dallas, amount to only US$46.
Other cities include San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago US$51; Minneapolis and Denver, US$53.50.
So how do we reach the hundreds of thousands of travellers that already have the means to reach us?
The simplest and most cost effective way is to partner with American Airlines and carry any special promotion on their various and frequent printed and email communications to members.
By purchasing miles as a destination and lowering the minimum requirement, we could make Barbados even more attractive and at a substantially lower cost than the current airline subsidies and marketing support.
A new website, MILEStones, specifically targeted towards its loyalty programme members, presents another forum to disseminate high definition tempting images.
The recent AA Mystery Miles promotion attracted 160,000 visitors to its FaceBook page during a five week period and clearly demonstrates how effectively social media can be used.
A destination specific version of this could easily generate additional interest in Barbados.
There is also no reason why we should limit targeting this niche to the United States and Canada.
From 15 October until 15 May the required miles from Continental Europe to Barbados via the US is reduced to 40,000.
If ‘we’ are looking to fulfil the promised increase in long stay visitors from Europe, then this is another tool.
It also avoids paying the dreaded APD for flights that are routed via London.
Add-on taxes payable in US$ for return tickets to Barbados:
Paris $146.40; Madrid $91.10; Zurich $119.70; Brussels $114.40; Dublin $108.20 and Helsinki $95.60:
Tourism MATTERS is also published weekly in the Barbados Business Authority.