|The Bahamas Investor Magazine
June 23, 2009
June 23, 2009
Tourism is big business for The Bahamas, accounting for more than 50 per cent of the country’s economic activity. However, as the global economic downturn continues, the Ministry of Tourism and Aviation (MOTA) is having to get creative to convince prospective holidaymakers to part with their hard-earned, less disposable pennies.
Total visitor arrivals to The Bahamas fell by 4.6 per cent year on year to 4.4 million in 2008, with the average room occupancy rate dipping from 64.2 per cent to 56.8 per cent.
In response to these figures, MOTA is looking at innovative ways to engage with potential tourists at home and overseas through the use of technology. Launching a large-scale multimedia initiative, MOTA intends to increase the amount of information available to the international audience while simultaneously establishing a rapport with the younger generation at home and abroad.
Speaking at the Business Outlook conference in Nassau earlier in the year, the newly installed Minister for Tourism and Aviation Vincent Vanderpool-Wallace said that promotion per se was not the problem. “Other areas such as affordability, accessibility, ‘bookability’, have to be addressed before visibility. We need to make it easier to come here. Most tourists now use the Internet to research and book their holidays. Our presence in that arena has to increase.”
A cornerstone for that initiative is the bahamas.com website and this, the minister believes, is a major advantage. “Run a search on The Bahamas on the Internet and the tourism ministry’s web site is one of the first you see,” he says. “We plan to increase the content, so that you can go online and see the views from your hotel room. We have already added a booking facility. In the future we will make it more interactive with streamed videos and more real time content.” Currently users can browse multimedia galleries, find out about package deals and visit an online gift shop.
Another element of the campaign will be to use technology to make visiting The Bahamas a more personal experience, before, during and after your trip. “When a visitor comes to The Bahamas,” continues the minister, “we get their name, date of birth and email address at customs and immigration. This information is in the database. From this year we will be sending every person that visits The Bahamas a personal email birthday card from the ministry.”
The minister hopes this simple but unique tactic will increase the levels of repeat visitors and enhance the image of The Bahamas as a friendly, welcoming holiday destination. The service will be a prime example of what he calls “the use of technology to make personal service more personal.”
Spreading the word
Of course the ministry would be foolish not to continue to use more traditional media outlets to advertise its technological efforts and MOTA has invested $11 million in worldwide advertising. This drive kicked off earlier in 2009 when an Islands of The Bahamas commercial was aired during the Super Bowl.
Aside from the US, this international marketing strategy will also encompass the high-end European market, which has seen a sharp decrease as a direct result of the economic downturn. Ads in British and European newspapers and on billboards feature the bahamas.com website heavily as the first port of call for those looking to visit the country.
In conjunction with these international initiatives, MOTA is also focusing on matters at home. The ministry recently launched a multimedia campaign to raise awareness of tourism events and promotions via the radio, Internet, television and print media. MOTA is hoping that it will strike a chord with locals and residents, informing them of the work the ministry does to attract foreign and domestic tourists. It also aims to encourage them to take an active role in making The Bahamas the destination of choice when the economy rebounds.
MOTA communications director Janet Johnson says: “We want to share with Bahamians and residents what we are doing and we want to use technology in order to do that. We need to tune into the digital age.
“An informed public is a happy public, which means we will have positive outcomes in the visitor experience. It is about sharing information and being transparent. We want to be everywhere all the time and give [Bahamians] comfort, especially in this global recession.”
The drive is also focusing on the needs of the domestic tourist and encouraging locals to visit their own country. As Johnson explains: “It is a recession, so we want to keep as much money as we can circulating at home.”
The campaign, which began in January with the launch of the Tourism Today Network, builds on the success of the Tourism Today television talk show, which features tourism officials discussing relevant issues and policies. These shows will be streamed on the affiliated website (www.tourismtoday.com) where users can now browse a series of features and access information on the sector such as marketing programmes, hotel licensing, events and promotions.
Local associations such as the Bahamas Hotel Association, the Nassau Paradise Island Promotion Board, the Nassau Tourism Development Board and the Grand Bahama Promotion Board have been working alongside MOTA in developing these marketing campaigns.
MOTA estimates that there are around 15,000 email addresses in The Bahamas and wants each account holder to sign up to the site’s thrice weekly e-newsletter. It has also linked the website to popular social networking forums such as Facebook, YouTube and MySpace to connect with a younger audience.
As the economy evolves and improves, so will the website, with an area dedicated to listing the available job opportunities. It is hoped that by alerting a new generation of Bahamians to the importance of tourism to the economy and their role in it, the country will build a more sustainable sector.
“Up until now we have never been as aggressive in trying to talk to the Bahamian people and telling them how important tourism is. We want to be able to attract the best and brightest into the tourism industry. We want them to feel it is a viable industry to enter and not an industry of last resort,” explains Johnson.
“Bahamians need to take ownership of the industry and we hope the pride will be there and they will treat visitors well.”
In building a more competitive and sustainable tourism industry, The Bahamas is looking to the future and bringing its approach firmly into the 21st century to better connect with modern day tourists.
The Bahamas is well represented on the Internet with several websites catering to tourists and those interested in exploring what the country has to offer. Visitors can use online resources to plan their trip or organize activities once they have arrived.
bahamas.com provides information on what deals and packages are available with an online booking function to help users plan their trip. Cruise passengers, honeymooners and those coming to do business in The Bahamas are all catered for with a section devoted to each. More casual holiday makers can also browse the site to find out more about individual islands, water sports or MOTA’s People-to-People programme, which connects tourists with locals.
caribbean.com is a comprehensive source of information about all of the Caribbean islands. It carries accommodation listings and provides information to allow users to easily research their holiday as well as featured hotels and villas to give users the pick of services available. Special offers, activities, shopping and restaurant information is all easily accessible from the site as well as interactive maps to hone in on specific areas of interest.
bahamas.gov.bs, the official website of the government of The Bahamas, is a useful tool for finding out travel tips relating to weather, currency, cultural events or immigration. In addition to these features, it provides an overview of the legal issues in sailing to The Bahamas such as ports of entry and vessel requirements. The site gives the contact details of all government departments and advice on banking in The Bahamas for those whose visit is of a financial nature.