One of the most difficult and painful decisions I have ever made was to cancel our last re-DISCOVER the Caribbean Show some years ago, which had become a highly successful annual event spanning over seven years.
As well as highlighting and driving new interest in Intra regional travel it was also used as a catalyst to build trade between the islands. It also brought almost around $1 million of foreign exchange into Barbados, filled scores of hotel rooms, generated significant car rental business and helped keep our multitude of restaurants busy, during a traditionally quieter off-season period.
If you were among the thousands of people who visited the show over the two days it took place each year, you would have met representatives from up to 22 participating territories, from Surinam in the south to Jamaica in the north and almost everywhere in between.
What finally prompted the final resolve to stop co-ordinating the show was the reduced funding by the then Barbados Tourism Authority, which even at its peak, represented less than 10 per cent of the actual cost…
Plus the sad realisation, that they could not find two or more of their staff to ‘man’ a stand for the duration, out of what were then over one hundred employees.
I remember being asked by one of a nearly thirty person delegation from St. Vincent and The Grenadines while praising the event and expressing appreciating the opportunity of participating, saying but you have put this altogether and your own Government does not even support it.
What also was perhaps so surprising at the time certain public sector tourism officials questioned the objective of the project, stating that they saw it as encouraging Barbadians to travel overseas, rather than attract additional visitors to our shores. I always found this argument difficult to understand, as clearly any successful and sustainable airline needs to fill the seats in both directions.
Hopefully with the possible re-positioning of LIAT’s headquarters to the far more logical Barbados and a new direction in the restructured BTA, now the Barbados Tourism Marketing Inc., there will be a fresh new look at resurrecting the initiative, to become the premier and only event in the region dedicated to growing intra Caribbean travel.
re-DISCOVER the Caribbean also offered tremendous potential of exposing our destination and others in the region to travel partners in our other markets, both traditional and emerging. To exhibit at major shows like ITB in Berlin and World Travel Market (WTM) in London is enormously expensive and sometimes you cannot help wondering if it isn’t more logical to bring the chief sources of those who drive business, the travel agents and tour operators, here to the Caribbean instead,to sample the product first hand.
If the show is scheduled at the same time as the annual CONNECT event, then ultimately it’s a win-win for everybody.
We surely cannot be so insular to think that our current travel professionals do not sell other islands within the region in their various homelands.