With so many countries looking for Chinese tourists, what can Barbados do to stand out?
What does Barbados have in common with Bermuda, Italy, the U.K., Guam, Georgia, New York City, the Emirates, Kenya, Zimbabwe, South Africa, Australia, Canada, Viet Nam, Germany, Malaysia, Fiji, Ecuador, Montenegro, Egypt, France, India, Mexico, Thailand, Bahamas, Amsterdam, Indonesia and New Zealand?
Every one of those places (and more) recently announced an intention to court the Chinese outbound tourist market in an effort to counter losses from the current financial crisis. Yup… we’re all relying on China to make up the losses we’ve seen in tourist dollars from our regular markets. It sounds like a great plan in Barbados, until you Google “China + Tourism” and see how many other countries have the same idea!
Is the Chinese tourist pie so big that it can be cut into that many slices? And why should the Chinese want to come to Barbados rather than one of the other destinations approved by their Communist government?
Of the two questions, perhaps the second one is more important for the Barbados tourism industry. Why would a Chinese tourist want to come to Barbados instead of some other destination?
Sizzle without Steak is no longer sustainable
As I see it, successful tourism is about doing a few basic things well: defining your product(s), identifying likely target groups, selling the sizzle – but being able to deliver enough steak once the tourists get to the destination that they don’t feel deceived and disappointed.
Barbados has traditionally been good at the sale, but not so great at delivering a product that matches the promotion. You don’t need to believe me about that: just head over to YouTube and watch a few Barbados Tourism commercials (here, here & here) – then think about the expectations that were created and the tough reality of fulfilling those expectations. Now consider the reality of too much garbage on the streets, the traffic in the city and the shortage of open space, beach access and parking on the “Platinum Coast” (a BTA-created phrase if I ever heard one).
The difference between sizzle and steak is not very different from other tourist destinations though. Disney World shows happy people in their commercials, but leaves out the kids puking on the rides. Disney also doesn’t tell you that Orlando has a violent crime rate that is triple the U.S. national average! Thefts are a little better at only double the national rate.
Similarly the folks who promote Paris don’t tell you that so many of that city’s residents urinate anywhere they choose that the place smells little better than a sewer in the summer. Hardly the romantic image beloved by the people who create the Paris Tourist Board commercials. And to top it off… you thought Bridgetown shop clerks were sullen? You should experience the miserable souls who staff the tourist traps on rue de Rivoli!
The Web has changed the world, but does the Barbados Tourism Authority realise what that really means?
Every destination has to deal with the dichotomy between the advertised image and the reality. The difference today is that countries can’t so easily get away with cover-ups and false advertising. The web has reduced the ability of governments and the news media to fool all of the people all of the time. Barbados can pay foreign journalists to write positive articles (and we pay top dollar!), but hundreds or thousands of tourists will still report the truth on the web for all to see. Read some of the Trip Advisor reviews of horrible hotels and you’ll understand what I mean. (Time Out at the Gap, anyone? “Don’t go there” says a visitor from Scotland.)
That brings us to the Chinese market. The Chinese are connected online like few other countries. Heavily censored and monitored of course, but there are still so many Chinese on the internet that only a few bad experiences in Barbados could have a totally disproportionate impact if posted on the net by disgruntled tourists. There are many topics that Chinese can’t talk about online, but (although I have no specific knowledge) I would be surprised if hotel reviews about Barbados are a prohibited topic!
Our government is doing its best to tap the giant Chinese tourism market. We’ve opened a mission and sent a former Prime Minister as Ambassador and that says much to the Chinese about how we value their business. No doubt we will produce some fine promotional videos and written materials that are scientifically tuned to attract the targeted audience. We’ve probably already hosted some Chinese journalists and politicians – plying them with the best tours, alcohol, accommodations and meals that we can scrounge up.
All that is the sizzle. But what about the steak?
Think of the multitudes in Beijing or Hong Kong as they consider a trip half way around the world to Barbados. What do they hope to find? What are they trying to get away from? What do they expect from the ordinary Bajan on the street?
I don’t know the answer to any of those questions – but if our government is really serious about the Chinese, we’d better start telling our citizens and our hospitality industry about the cultural differences and expectations of our Chinese guests or this opportunity will evaporate as quickly as you can say, “I don’t like this hotel room.”
…article by J.M. with a little help from Cliverton
Voice Online UK: Barbados: Caribbean urged to pursue Chinese tourists