During the first 30Under30 Destination Immersion Summit last month in Barbados, Travel Agent magazine conducted a roundtable discussion to see how younger agents can make more money selling this luxurious Caribbean island.
Among the more than 30 agents, media, suppliers and tourism representatives in attendance were roundtable hosts Ruthanne Terrero and Joe Pike, both from Travel Agent magazine; Lynda Lettre, Party Time Travel; Danielle Carlson, Passageways Travel; Nadine Dimashkie, Frosch Travel; Daniela Harrison, Avenues of the World Travel; Hilary Wallace, Bliss Honeymoons; Blake Brown, Omega World Travel; Erin Koutsoubis and Ryan Doncsecz, VIP Vacations; Wayne Kafcsak, general manager of the Fairmont Royal Pavilion; Ryan Blackett, director of cruise tourism for Barbados Tourism Authority; Vicky Chandler, Barbados Tourism Authority; Annmarie Thompson, director of marketing and advertising for the Barbados company, Sun Group; and Michael Phillips, general manager of The Crane, where the roundtable was hosted.
Here are the highlights from that discussion:
|Ryan Blackett, Barbados Tourism Authority; Joe Pike, Travel Agent magazine; Blake Brown, Omega World Travel; Phyllis A. Sauter, Destinations of Distinction; and Paul Doyle, The Crane Resort.|
Joe Pike, Travel Agent magazine: What kind of business are the agents in the room doing to Barbados? Don’t be ashamed to say you don’t do any Barbados. I’m sure that’s the kind of reason why we’re here, to improve your business. And then, I guess for the non-agents, any suppliers may lend some little pointers on what they could do to increase their sales to Barbados.
Hilary Wallace, Bliss Honeymoons: We, as an agency, have done a few sales to Barbados. But personally I’m just unfamiliar with it, and I am very excited to get the chance to come down. So we’re hoping to improve our business.
Erin Koutsoubis, VIP Vacations: I also have never been here before and never sold Barbados either. I think being here definitely makes it a lot easier to sell it. Seeing properties firsthand and views of the ocean and the cliffs make it so much easier to explain to the clients, when they ask you certain questions. You say, ‘You know what, I was actually there and I saw it’ and that may not have been the best room or this room over here is better, things like that. When you know exactly what you’re talking about as opposed to just looking at pictures, it makes it so much easier to sell it. People take your word for it a lot better, too. So definitely coming here makes a big difference with trying to encourage more couples, honeymoons, things like that to come.
|Daniela Harrison, Avenues of the World Travel; Hilary Wallace, Bliss Honeymoons; Ryan Doncsecz, VIP Vacations, Inc.; and Nadine Dimashkie, Frosch Travel.|
Danielle Carlson, Passageways Travel: I agree. I feel like your clients trust your opinion and when they can go and see what it’s about. How you got from the airport to your hotel, what the experience was like, they take that and they trust that. I have not sold Barbados personally, though I looked at it for cruise work. I live in Michigan and it takes a long time to get here and we didn’t arrive until about 10 p.m. So it’s a little bit more difficult, but I am learning that it would be worth the trip and I will let everybody know that.
Joe Pike, Travel Agent magazine: What kind of information are you looking for, what kind of information do you need to know in order to sell to a client?
|Danielle Carlson, Passageways Travel; Lynda Lettre, Party Time Travel; Andre Miller, Dive Barbados Blue and Ryan Blackett, Barbados Tourism Authority.|
Ryan Doncsecz, VIP Vacations: Honestly, it’s just going to be able to see some resorts and meet some of the people and have interactions. I’ve had a few trips where I had some great times with some of the staff members at the resort, so this is going to be easier after all this. Once you make those relationships with people at the destination or at the resort, it makes it easier to sell.
Joe Pike, Travel Agent magazine:Who should agents be targeting? Who’s a typical Barbados client? Is it families, is it older families? Is it older couples, is it younger couples?
|Hilary Wallace, Bliss Honeymoons; Kristen Sauter, Destinations of Distinction and Vicky Chandler, Barbados Tourism Authority. Right Side from front to back, Lynda Lettre, Party Time Travel; Ryan Doncsecz, VIP Vacations, Inc.; and Erin Koutsoubis, VIP Vacations, Inc.|
Ryan Blackett, Barbados Tourism Authority: I would say the demographic that appeals to Barbados would be more middle aged like 30 years old and 30+ couples. You’ll find a much stronger honeymoon market. Family market is very stable as it should be. We’re finding that some resorts like The Crane and others are more adaptive to the family market. Some of the all-inclusive products also certainly adapt to the family market, but Barbados is not a big family destination. I would say it is more couples, higher-income bracket clients, so I think that pretty much can help you find something different.
|The Crane Resort was the host property for the 30Under30 Destination Immersion Summit in Barbados.|
I think what Ryan said should definitely not go unnoted. I believe of all the islands I’ve worked on in the Caribbean, this is absolutely the safest. There is nowhere you or your family can’t go to be able to explore the culture of it, and that’s why people tend to get out and don’t necessarily have to be on resort compounds and that sort of thing. They can really get out and about.
|Lynda Lettre, Party Time Travel and Ryan Doncsecz, VIP Vacations, Inc.|
Annmarie Thompson, Sun Group: Although we tend to be a destination that lends itself to higher-income travelers, don’t forget the budget traveler to Barbados. There are a number of options, particularly smaller hotels that allow people to come and experience Barbados at a much lower price point and allow them to enjoy the surfing, get out and see all of the shops and parts of Barbados that really make us a very cultural and interesting destination. So I wouldn’t discount the budget travel as an option, as well. In my experience, having worked a little bit with the marketing committee of the Barbados Hotel & Tourism Association over the last two years, I would say that our all-inclusive experience seems to be a little different from some of the other destinations. So even when people are booking all-inclusives they are still going out and experiencing the destination which I think speaks volumes for what Barbados has to offer. If you’re going to a place and you find it necessary to stay within the place you booked, then you’re not really going to a destination, you’re going to a hotel. But in Barbados, we have a nice marriage of these two things where people feel that even if they booked an all-inclusive hotel, they really need to go out and see what this place is all about.
|Campbell Rudder, Vice President Marketing USA and Averil Byer, Director of Marketing Services with the Barbados Tourism Authority.|
Erin Koutsoubis, VIP Vacations: I think fear is probably the No. 1 reason for booking all-inclusives because travelers do want to go to a destination but they are terrified of going outside of their resort in most countries. If they didn’t have that fear and they knew it was safe, maybe they wouldn’t be so inclined to book an all-inclusive because they know they could go here and there and be able to explore and just go walk down the street and eat at whatever joint is down there. But I think most people are just too apprehensive and they just feel the need, especially Americans. I think Americans are more so than Europeans.
Ruthanne Terrero, Travel Agent magazine: How do we get that point across more effectively to the agent community because that’s a really important issue?
|Nadine Dimashki, Frosch Travel, and Daniela Harrison, Avenues of the World Travel.|
Erin Koutsoubis, VIP Vacations: I think it is experience and I say the same thing for Mexico. Jennifer, our president, and I drove up and down the entire coast in a Jeep with the top off in Mexico. We went to all the resorts and I am talking about two young blonde women on their own and we had no problems whatsoever. I can say from personal experience that two women can deal with it alone and not have any problems. Take a cab back home at 11 p.m. or whatever and there is no problems and you really don’t need to be worried. So I’ll tell you, just experience! We were there, we travelled the entire island and there were no problems.
|The Summit participants enjoy some down time together after a productive session.|
Wayne Kafcsak, Fairmont Royal Pavilion: It’s true that we increased our North American business or U.S. business from 6 percent to 22 percent only by a few great fam trips, a few people getting to know us and just seeing the destination and saying, ‘Wow, this is what the Caribbean was 30 years ago.’ It’s safe, it’s clean. You can stop at any of these rum shops on the side of the road and have a drink with someone. So, it’s not about being within the walled confines of an all-inclusive. And our pricing: people do think we tend to lean to the luxury side, but we are unlike Anguilla or the Turks [and Caicos], which are high volume, sort of price-sensitive places. All of us are at great parity in one way—shape or form—because we’re all competing on the Internet and we know what we’re doing. So again it’s that awareness I think, when agents see us, they love us.
Ryan Blackett, Barbados Tourism Authority: Barbados is a playground for a lot of folks from the UK and has been for many years, since the beginning of our history, so to speak. And 47 percent of our business actually is around the UK. As you know, it hasn’t been a highly aspirational destination for the UK and most of our price points over the years tend to be that to accommodate the UK visitor—our exchange rate in the summer was 3 to 1, so for every one pound, it’s 3 euros or Barbados dollars. Over the years, we have also generated the highest repeat business to the Caribbean and Barbados, around 40 percent. We didn’t have to do much advertising or any of that fuzzy stuff. People accepted the price point and we got exceptionally well over the years. But we need to diversify. We need more business out of the U.S. The perception is going to be that it is expensive because you’re hearing a little bit more of the pricing of the hotels that can afford the advertising on TV and that perception has evolved. However, I’m sure that some of you will go tonight and you will see that Barbados also has a very inexpensive side. You can savor a full dinner for less than $20, so it is also a very affordable destination or there is probably a big secret, as you’ll discover us more.
|Wayne Kafcsak, Fairmont Royal Pavilion, and Danielle Carlson, Passageways Travel.|
Annmarie Thompson, Sun Group: Dining is such an important part of Barbados experience that there has actually been a food, wine and rum festival, which we developed over the years and it’s taking place this November again. I think it presents a perfect opportunity for your clients who are into food to come and experience that side of the destination because I can tell you, when I first moved here you could explore the restaurants on this island for I can’t tell you how long. I have not gone to all of them yet and I have been here 11 years, so there is a fantastic range of them here and I think that is one of our really strong attributes.
Vicky Chandler, Barbados Tourism Authority: That’s the client we need, who is not a virgin traveler to the Caribbean, the people who want something different, who don’t want to go where everybody else has been, who don’t want to go where there are people running up and down the beach and drinking 16 martinis because they are there. Who want to go somewhere for a different experience and that’s what we offer.
Erin Koutsoubis, VIP Vacations: I think it also goes back to the safety point. First-time travelers to the Caribbean want to go to a well-known resort that they know millions of people have been to, and they know they are going to be safe there. And then once they’ve been there, then they venture out to another one and so on and realize that it’s not as dangerous as they might have perceived the very first time that they went out. I also think the food is a good marketing tool. People love good food and they’ll go to some place if they know that the place is going to have good food even if it’s not an all-inclusive. So I think dining definitely is one way to boost Barbados’ tourism because you can give people the opportunities of different restaurants that are on the island that you know, and it’ll definitely attract them tremendously.