To deliver Keynote talk at Caribbean Hotel & Tourism Conference
When it comes to travel information and reviews, TripAdvisor LLC is probably the single most powerful online presence. The company’s websites attract 50+ million unique visitors each month – and that’s unique visitors, not visits. One person visiting 20 times in a month counts only once.
So when Brian Payea, TripAdvisor’s head of industry relations, speaks – hotels and tourism people listen very very closely. Mr. Payea will be delivering the keynote speech at the Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Conference coming to Bridgetown June 1 to 3, 2011.
Like all businesses, tourism was thrust into an unknown and frightening world when the internet arrived and, much to their horror, hotels discovered that tourists could post unedited reviews and photos online. And post they did…
Suddenly the paid-for advertising and colourful brochures showing ten year old photos of a brand new hotel were countered with the truth. Disgruntled and ripped off customers at destinations around the world posted photos of cockroaches, stained bedding and filthy swimming pools. Tourists trapped in broken down buses with no toilets, no food and no water blogged and twittered in real time as their personal hell unfolded. The BBC and CNN often picked up on the feeds and broadcast the vacation disasters.
Things changed virtually overnight from the days when a glossy vacation pamphlet and a planted, paid-for travel story in the New York Times was all it took to attract visitors.
The hotel and tourism industry is still struggling to cope with free speech on the internet, and some fools in the industry even called for “tight regulation of hotel reviews” after TripAdvisor published as list of “dirtiest hotels”. They might as well try to stop the tides and the rotation of the earth because if TripAdvisor was shut down tomorrow another dozen or a hundred travel review websites would appear overnight.
What can the tourism industry do about internet reviews and criticism?
Mr. Payea has some ideas and he’ll be talking about the internet and other subjects at the upcoming conference.
Here’s what we think that Barbados tourism should do about the internet: Listen to what many people are saying.
Barbadians are not delivering the tourism product that we used to.
Barbados is not delivering the product that we promise in our current advertising. Look at the paid travel stories, commercials and glossy brochures. Now look at the reality. Look at what’s left of some of our beaches. Look at the trash everywhere. Talk to some of the sullen, uncaring and even hostile shop attendants downtown.
We don’t know what message Mr. Payea will bring to the conference, but we know that no amount of advertising, spin, internet engagement or re-branding can make up for a decade of neglect of our tourism and island infrastructure. No amount of paid-for travel videos can compete with the damage done by a filthy, old hotel and staff who would rather be doing something else and think that being polite to guests is “subservience”.
Barbados must concentrate on providing our best possible product and the best possible experience for every visitor to our home. That is, and should be, the business of every Barbadian.
Anyone who thinks that “re-branding”, new advertising or spin is some sort of “solution” to what’s happened to Barbados tourism is only fooling themselves.