It hasn’t been a bad beginning to Petra Roach’s new role in Barbados tourism.
Roach, who was named new director of the U.S. for the Barbados Tourism Marketing Inc. (BTMI) back in January, has been at the helm of what could be the island’s most successful campaign in years.
Barbados saw a whopping 47.9 percent increase in visitors from the U.S. for the first half of April, compared to the first half of April last year. The island also saw an impressive 37.9 percent spike in U.S. travelers in March, compared to March of 2014.
“Airlines play such an important role in reenergizing a market,” says Roach. “Our success is also due to the fact that we are on the cutting edge of deals, and new properties, and basically everything that is hot in the marketplace.”
New flights that have made a huge impact to Barbados tourism this year are Delta’s direct flight from New York’s John F. Kennedy Airport (JFK), which launched in June of last year, and JetBlue Airway’s overall increased capacity to Barbados of 24 percent. Included in the new JetBlue flights will be its new Mint service between JFK airport and Barbados.
The service will run November 7, 2015, through April 30, 2016, every Saturday, with extended daily service during the holiday season (December 19, 2015, – January 4, 2016). Rates start at $599 each way for off-peak flights.
The new Mint service, which was announced by Barbados Tourism Marketing Inc. in mid-March, offers dedicated check-in, speed-thru security, early boarding, free Fly-Fi, non-stop entertainment on 15” interactive video screens, lie-flat seats (four of which are suites), full-bottle wine service, a signature “refreshmint,” complimentary alcoholic beverages and in-flight dining options on new A321 aircraft.
Travelers leave the plane with a complimentary amenity kit filled with beauty, grooming and lifestyle products from Birchbox (for both men and women), as well as an artisanal sweet treat as a parting gift.
“The Mint series is so important for us because that is the type of clients we are seeing more and more of,” says Roach. “Our clients are getting younger and we are also seeing more and more people staying in luxury villas that are as high as $10,000 a night.”
Just as Roach is excited to beef up the number of U.S. consumers heading to Barbados, she is equally focused on maintaining strong relationships with the island’s travel agent partners.
Roach told us Barbados will be conducting a series of educational road shows for travel agents in which Barbados will visit 10 major U.S. cities, including New York, Boston, Atlanta, Florida and Texas. Although we don't have the full schedule, we were told the Boston road show will take place on June 8 while the New York City road show will take place on June 11. The times and locations for those dates have yet to be announced.
“These are all locations we picked based on places where airlift to Barbados is huge or where there are opportunities for massive growth,” says Roach.
And the evidence that agents are selling Barbados can be found in the Barbados’ Elite Club, which is the name of its travel agent specialist course offered on Travel Agent University. (Travel Agent University, like Travel Agent Central, is owned by the Questex Travel Group.) Since 2008, the program has seen more than 6,000 graduates, says Eusi Skeete, senior business development manager for the BTMI. Roach says she wants to take that program further by rewarding the “best of the best” of these agents.
She told us tentative plans call for singling out 200 of the 6,000 graduates based on the amount of bookings to Barbados, sales volume to Barbados and other factors. Three weeks after the 200 agents have been selected, that number will be chopped down to 50. The plan will culminate in a “Mega Fam” with 50 of the best Barbados agents.
“The plans is to get 50 of the best Barbados agents and just have them come to the island to get acclimated with all the new products and offerings we have,” Roach says.
Back in December, Travel Agent spoke with Skeete about the recent division of the Barbados Tourism Authority. Barbados Tourism Marketing Inc. is one of two new divisions of tourism in Barbados, along with the Barbados Tourism Product Authority (BTPA). The BTMI is private and will focus on marketing while the BTPA will focus on product.
In October, William Griffith was named the first CEO of the BTMI. An industry veteran, Griffith brings his vast experience in tourism back to Barbados, having been a member of the leadership team in a number of hotel properties in both Barbados and Bermuda.
Most recently, Griffith led the Bermuda Department of Tourism in the role of director of tourism for a period of six years. Here Griffith was responsible for the direction and management of all operations within the organization, including overseeing offices in the U.S., Canada, U.K., Italy and Germany.
Roach previously held the position of vice president in the U.K. for 12 years. She recently led the organization as interim CEO during its transition period in the restructuring of the Barbados Tourism Authority to the BTMI from May to October of 2014.
Under her stewardship, the U.K. office engineered such consumer initiatives as the British Airways Football Legends Invitational Tournament and Top Gear Festival Barbados, as well as some innovative incentive programs for the travel trade, such as “Gimme 5 and Fly” and Connect Barbados.