Former Prime Minister Sir Lloyd Erskine Sandiford told the DLP youth arm on the weekend that Barbados should be pursuing Chinese tourists – if for no other reason that China is the world’s second largest economy and the Chinese love to travel. Sandy says we should cull what we can from the market and nevermind that we don’t have a direct airlift. ‘Stop moaning about no direct airlift and get on with it’ is a good summary of his message.
On one hand, Sir Lloyd’s comments make sense. We must catch as catch can in this economy and we can’t afford to miss any opportunity to attract tourists with money. (As opposed to tourists without money, like many of the cruise passengers who are stretched to pay US$65 a day for their all-inclusive cruises and so they spend zero when their ship docks in Bridgetown.)
But then reality sets in just as it did when Owen Arthur and Noel Lynch announced that tourism from India was the next big thing. Ha! Remember that disaster? And then in 2011 the folks at the Barbados Tourism Authority were just as sure that Russian tourists would save the day. How did that work out?
Let’s consider what it really takes to get from Hong Kong to Barbados, shall we?
According to Expedia.com, “London, GB is the most popular connection for one stop flights between Hong Kong, HK and Barbados, BB.” The site also says that Air Canada runs the shortest flight between Hong Kong and Barbados, with one stop and that “75,477 seats are available per day to fly out of Hong Kong, HK connecting to Barbados, BB” (I would guess that number includes some flights with three stopovers in places like Newark, New Jersey – which JD Power ranked “worst airport in America” and Huffington Post called “a hellhole”.)
Hmmmm…. Nonetheless, maybe Sir Lloyd’s message has some truth in it: the seats are there and we should work at it. Now comes the “but”…
Let’s say we take Air Canada flight A16 nonstop from Hong Kong to Toronto, Canada, leaving May 8, 2012 at 3:10pm Hong Kong time, and arrive in Toronto on May 8, at 6:05pm after spending about 19 hours at Hong Kong airport and on the aircraft. The next flight to Barbados doesn’t leave until 8:40am the next morning, so we have to spend a night in Toronto and then drag ourselves – zombie like – to the morning flight to Grantley. We’ll arrive in Bim on May 9 at 2pm and then spend a couple of hours making our way through luggage and customs and getting to our hotel.
Call it 41 hours of travel door-to-door between your home in Hong Kong and the Hilton in Bridgetown.
41 hours is a long time in transit. Subtract the 41 hours to and another 41 hours return from a week (not to mention travel-zombie recovery time when you reach Barbados) and you’ll see that Chinese tourists simply can’t take a week and head to Barbados. They have to invest at least two weeks to have a reasonable holiday in Bim.
What about going through London on Virgin? Here are the numbers…
Say you left your condo in Hong Kong three hours before the flight. Leave Hong Kong on Virgin VS201 May 8, 2012 at 23:25 hours (wohloss!) and arrive in London on May 9th at 05:25 (zombie!). Then grab the 09:35 flight to Barbados (VS035) and arrive on May 9th at 13:15. Add maybe another two hours to go through customs and get to the Hilton. That’s 31 hours door to door – your Hong Kong condo to checking into the Hilton, Barbados. No sleep except on the airplane. YOU ARE A ZOMBIE.
Now take a day or more to recover.
That is the reality of Chinese tourists coming to Barbados.
Are we that special?
You have to ask yourself: is Barbados that special that Chinese tourists would spend thirty or forty hours getting here? Forget about sand, sun and ocean. Think of the destinations between Hong Kong and Barbados that have beaches, little umbrella drinks and relaxation: Australia, Fiji, Bali, Hawaii, California, Mexico, Jamaica. The flight from Hong Kong to Fiji is nine hours.
What makes Barbados so special that Chinese tourists would choose us over all those other destinations?
I can think of a number of reasons why Chinese tourists would choose an adventure to Barbados – but I’ll tell you this: If I traveled forty hours to arrive in Bim, I had better be greeted by smiling-happy-to-see-me airport and hotel staff. The sullen, pissed off Immigration officials had better not decide to call me ‘coolie man’ with a heavy Bajan dialect under their breath and the sheets on the bed had better not have cigarette burns.
Everybody thinks that Chinese tourism will save us. But when you crunch the travel time, it’s obvious that we’d better not forget those cold farmers in North Dakota come February – because they only take eight hours from snow drifts to rum on the beach.
Our assessment: Until we get hypersonic sub-orbital four hour flights from Hong Kong direct non-stop to Grantley Adams, don’t expect to see hordes of middle class Chinese invading Barbados for a week’s holiday… it’s not going to happen! Sir Sandy is all fired up about China because he is our Ambassador to that country – but I wouldn’t be getting our hopes up thinking that Chinese government interest in our support at the United Nations translates into vastly increased tourism traffic from China.