Travel Agent recently sat down with Sharon Flax-Mars, the director of tourism for the British Virgin Islands, and got the skinny on everything from the destination’s new travel agent specialist program to the British Virgin Islands' first direct flights from the U.S. in more than 30 years.
Here are the highlights from that interview:
The BVI’s New Agent Specialist Program
The British Virgin Islands Tourist Board (BVITB) recently launched the "BVI Secrets Revealed Travel Agent Specialist Program," along with its accompanying mobile app and website, www.bvisecretsrevealed.com.
This program will connect the travel advisor community to the BVI by offering industry insiders access to exclusive insights and tools that allow clients to discover the unique and exciting aspects of the destination.
We were told the program is projected to get about 500 graduates in its first year.
“This program really engages both the agents and the consumers,” says Flax-Mars. “It is a much more interactive program than we have had in the past.”
The BVI Secrets Revealed Travel Agent Specialist Program features three main areas of content: Destination Discovery, Product Showcase & Supplier Directory and the Sales Toolbox.
The tabs enable professionals to continually discover, re-visit, share, and reinforce their sales knowledge of the BVI, while empowering them to tell the most impactful story possible about the destination. Advisors will be able to easily access all the sales collateral they need, including videos, brochures, presentations, top 10 lists and maps. By allowing users to select filters and quickly find properties that will surprise and delight clients, the new mobile app and website are indispensable tools for travel advisors.
After registering and completing a specialist program exam, travel advisors will be able to participate in on-site training and one-on-one webinars with business development managers. As an added bonus, advisors who complete training will be qualified to win a complimentary trip to the BVI in 2017 and beyond. Additionally, a rewards program for travel advisors will kick off in 2017.
First Direct Flights in More Than 30 Years
|Travel Agent's Joe Pike chats with Sharon Flax-Mars, the British Virgin Islands' director of tourism. // Photo by Samantha Reed|
Flax-Mars told Travel Agent that the British Virgin Islands will get its first direct flights from the U.S. in more than 30 years. Flax-Mars says BVI Airways, which currently only operates regional flights within the BVI, will launch direct flights from Miami three times a week in the late fall.
The Zika Effect
Although the BVI has had no reported cases of the Zika virus, that is not stoping Flax-Mars from being proactive on the matter. She told Travel Agent that all overnight guests visiting the BVI are given a one-ounce bottle of bug spray on arrival.
Flax-Mars says that, although the destination has not had any Zika cases, there have been some multi-generational groups that have canceled trips to the BVI due to fear of the virus.
The Impact of Airbnb
Flax-Mars says Airbnb, Inc. continues to have a strong presence in the British Virgin Islands and has hurt the destination’s hotel business mainly because Airbnb, unlike hotels, is not taxed.
“It comes down to economics,” says Flax-Mars. “Everyone has to pay their fair share.”
And Flax-Mars is not alone in her view.
In June, Travel Agent sat down with members of the Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association who shared the same opinion.
Members of the CHTA expressed a strong desire for regulation of Airbnb. Frank Comito, chief executive officer and director general of the CHTA, told Travel Agent that the CHTA met with top Airbnb executives and discussed the need for regulations for Caribbean Airbnb properties.
Matt Cooper, chief marketing officer for the CHTA, expressed the need for Airbnb to offer full transparency. After all, if the CHTA is unaware how many Airbnb stays are being booked or how many are being offered in the Caribbean, then they cannot predict how much airlift the region will need to accommodate visitors, Cooper contends.
Although certain aspects of regional marketing can be beneficial to the Caribbean, Flax-Mars says she doesn’t “see it as a real possibility.”
Flax-Mars told Travel Agent regional marketing would be more beneficial for the smaller islands, but the British Virgin Islands will continue to do its own marketing.
Instead, Sharon says she would rather the BVI pair up with one or two islands to promote island hopping between the destinations. Sharon says she would like the BVI to partner up with either Antigua or St. Maarten/St. Martin.
With more than 30 years of hospitality experience, Flax-Mars is a veteran in the tourism industry. In her role as director of tourism, she oversees the operations of the British Virgin Islands Tourist Board, the body responsible for all marketing, public relations, and product development for the destination. She joined the tourist board in 2013, bringing her passion for guest service and the hospitality industry to the role.