As part of Travel Agent magazine’s second annual Destination Immersion, in which we treat some of our most recent 30Under30 winners to an all-expense paid fam trip to Barbados, agents and tourism officials took part in a roundtable discussion to tackle some burning topics surrounding this popular Caribbean hot spot.
From the impact of new, well-known hotel brands on the island to selling the destination via social media to the destination’s stance on LGBT travel, attendees engaged in a healthy discussion that produced a wealth of selling points for agents looking to sell this Caribbean gem.
In attendance were moderator Joe Pike, Travel Agent magazine; Samantha Erickson, Luxury Travel Exchange International; Eusi Skeete, Barbados Tourism Authority; Kim Thorpe, Barbados Tourism Authority; Janelle Murray, Barbados Hotel & Tourism Association; Melissa Chalbaud, Ocean Two Resort & Residences; Dominic Hill, managing director of tour operator Journeys Thru Paradise; Heather Hice-Mitchel, The Travel Authority: A Leisure Division of Altour; Miriam Geiser, MoonRings; Jacque Miller, Journeys by Jacque; Anna Fields Cropper, All Inclusive Outlet; Emily Fisher, VIP Vacations, Inc.; Zachary Moses, HE Travel; Michael Majcherczyk, Classic Travel; Ryan Mielke, Regency Travel; Bernadette Sperrazza, The World Awaits Travel; Melissa Pugh, Jet Set World Travel; Ashley Walker, TravelSmiths; and Jessica Sussman, Frosch International Travel.
Following are some highlights from the discussion:
Joe Pike, Travel Agent magazine: Tell me if you sell Barbados. If you don’t sell it at all, then why not? If you do sell it, who do you usually target?
|Janelle Murray, Barbados Hotel & Tourism Association; Anna Fields Cropper, All Inclusive Outlet; and Samantha Erickson, Luxury Travel Exchange International.|
Ashley Walker, TravelSmiths: Yes, we do sell it 100 percent. I think it’s very easily accessible from the New Jersey/New York area, because there are non-stop flights out of JFK Airport. I think people really like Barbados because they are always looking for something exotic and different and this place is just that. I’ve been recently selling the destination to a lot of couples and I’ve sent a few people to Sandy Lane (Hotel) before.
Emily Fisher, VIP Vacations, Inc.: I personally haven’t sold Barbados, but I know our agency has. I’m very excited about the new Couples property because I know it’s going to be big a sell. I always tell clients that I stopped here once on a cruise and got to spend a day. I make sure I describe the five stops that I had during the journey, and how Barbados definitely has the nicest people. So I’m hoping to learn a little bit more about the island and its different hotels, then hopefully get the ball rolling.
Bernadette Sperrazza, The World Awaits Travel: I had a client who wanted to have her honeymoon somewhere in the Caribbean. So I threw Barbados out there as an option, along with some others. She was like, ‘Hey, you know I’ve heard a lot about Barbados.’ At that point, she really just wanted to learn more about it. Now that I have been promoting the destination actively, she’s definitely got her heart set on coming to Barbados. We’re just kind of narrowing it down on where to stay.
|Melissa Pugh of Jet Set World Travel; Miriam Geiser (front), MoonRings; and Melissa Chalbaud, Ocean Two Resort & Residences.|
Joe Pike, Travel Agent magazine: For the Barbados tourism people, give us an idea of where you see the destination’s core market heading to in the next 10 years.
Eusi Skeete, Barbados Tourism Authority: I think that we recognize the value of Barbados. And the people do too. More and more clients are demanding all-inclusives, but what we found recently is that as people become exposed to Barbados as a destination, there are a lot of things they are interested in that don’t necessarily mean all-inclusive. At first, they want to stay at an all-inclusive perhaps because they don’t think there’s any reason to leave the resort. Then I tell them about something special on the beach or doing the water submarine dive and having champagne and hors d’oeuvres served. I talk to them about doing something experiential, like ‘you could have the island’s top chefs come in and cook with you and your spouse.’ These are the things that make a trip memorable and when you have a hotel that’s equipped, like with a full kitchen, it’s easy to do these kinds of things that make a real difference.
Joe Pike, Travel Agent magazine: Barbados recently added the Radisson Aquatica Resort Barbados and the all-inclusive Couples Barbados, the first Couples outside of Jamaica. What impact does the addition of well-known, branded hotels have on selling a destination?
|Michael Majcherczyk, Classic Travel, and Bernadette Sperrazza, The World Awaits Travel.|
Heather Hice-Mitchel, The Travel Authority: I think it makes it easier for first-time clients. Especially, once they’re here and they experience this, they are going to be more comfortable coming to a resort that they don’t necessarily know. So I think that will actually help.
Ryan Mielke, Regency Travel: For me, when I book these people, I feel bad sending them to branded hotels. If they want to stay at a Radisson, a Marriott or hotels of that sort, they could probably go down the street and stay there. If they’re going to go abroad, I would rather put them somewhere authentic, some place where they’re going to experience the island, people, food and everything there is to know about. I try not to do the brands. It’s probably good for marketing, but sending my clients to a place like Barbados and having them stay at a setting that’s so familiar like a Radisson—I feel I would be robbing my clients of the chance to truly experience the place.
Jessica Sussman, Frosch International Travel: One of the reasons people use a travel agent like me —and hopefully are happy with the service I provide—is because I do things like compiling restaurant lists, cultural events, doing a lot of research to find activities and things to see that really cater to the clients’ interests. Why would they go to an agent to book an all-inclusive (like Couples Barbados) if they can do it themselves?
|Emily Fisher, VIP Vacations, Inc.; Eusi Skeete, Barbados Tourism Authority; and Heather Hice-Mitchel, The Travel Authority: A Leisure Division of Altour.|
Emily Fisher, VIP Vacations, Inc: I think it all really depends on the clients. If they’re kind of nervous to go to a different destination, it will break the ice to have a more popular branded resort. And then once they pay a visit, I think they’ll be a lot more likely to come back and even stay somewhere like Ocean Two.
Michael Majcherczyk, Classic Travel: I don’t think it’s all that important to have that branded hotel or resort here because Barbados is not a mass market. The place is kind of different and tends to appeal to a particular crowd. It’s got a unique feel and boasts its own island experience. So I don’t think our clientele really needs assurance that there’s a Radisson or whatever. But when it comes to using a travel agent, I think they come to you for your expertise so that you can recommend a smaller boutique hotel. They’ll trust you and look forward to a great experience. From a marketing perspective, brands do add value, but in my opinion, at least for my clientele, having a Radisson or other big names doesn’t matter much.
Jacque Miller, Journeys by Jacque: I could go both ways. I have clients that don’t know brands or anything about the Caribbean, so they just rely on my recommendations. That’s our job. They don’t have to know the hotel or be familiar with it, because that’s why I’m there. I can tell them where to go.
Miriam Geiser, MoonRings: Your clients trust you for your expertise and since this is obviously a luxury destination with some budget-friendly properties, it’s all about figuring out what’s important to them and then suggesting a specific hotel. But clients do have brand loyalty. For example, you might have clients who only like to stay at Four Seasons. So emergence of brands here could make a difference.
Anna Fields Cropper, All Inclusive Outlet: It’s good to have a branded hotel, especially one that people are loyal to. It will get the Couples clients in Jamaica calling about the one in Barbados. It will get these people thinking about Barbados. When they come, they will see other hotels and perhaps stay there the next time around, but I think that the brand they are loyal to will be the initial factor that attracts them to a new destination.
Zachary Moses, HE Travel: I see it as a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it will probably bring more people to Barbados, but on the other hand, when the big brands come in, they usually bring with them their loyalty programs and soon I find that my clients went directly with the hotel instead of going through us.
Joe Pike, Travel Agent magazine: Give me a specific example of how social media led to a specific sale. For the Barbados tourism people in the room, how is Barbados using social media to promote the destination?
Emily Fisher of VIP Vacations, Inc.: Pictures sell—especially if they are personal pictures and not just the ones off of a resort’s website. I actually posted a picture on Facebook of the view from my room (at Ocean Two Resort & Residences) and in a matter of 10 minutes, it got 42 “likes.” So you always have people talking about it. You always have friends asking, “Where is that?” or, "Are there any deals to that place coming up?”
Zachary Moses of HE Travel: We try to get everybody to interact with us on Facebook rather than just spewing our marketing out on the site. If we can get people to communicate with us, then we get to know them, learn about their interests and find out where they want to go. An example is: We’re organizing our new tour in Palau right now and I put up a picture that had a scuba diver and split above him was someone ziplining, with a little verse that said, “Where would you rather go?” or something like that. Somebody commented, “We’ve been on several of your diving tours and we can’t wait until you guys have a new one. I replied immediately saying, “actually we’re having a new Palau trip.” The Palau trip is not even on our website yet, but this guy and his partner have already booked the Palau trip that’s not even announced publicly yet and they’ve already put their deposits in beforehand. That was done just by interacting.
|Heather Hice-Mitchel, The Travel Authority: A Leisure Division of Altour; Jessica Sussman, Frosch International Travel; Ashley Walker, TravelSmiths; Emily Fisher, VIP Vacations, Inc.; and Janelle Murray, Barbados Hotel & Tourism Association.|
Eusi Skeete, Barbados Tourism Authority: With Barbados, we also use social media. We have Facebook, Twitter and Instagram and we manage various elements of our social media campaign. We have different contests as well, of course, to learn about the destination on Facebook. It’s great for awareness but I think we all know that. I mean people are buying it and it’s certainly something about the destination that we believe in, and we use [social media] to get the best performance out there and more. So that’s what we keep doing and we bring in our agent community too as it relates to social media. For example, the agencies that we visit may not be in this demographic; they might be a bit older and still trying to get things in the social media space. So we can actually sit with the agents to do a private consultation with one of us, maybe to help them get a Facebook page set-up.
Melissa Chalbaud, Ocean Two Resort & Residences: From a hotel perspective, we can use it to differentiate ourselves because everyone can read our website, find descriptions about us and compare us with other hotels. To add to our uniqueness quotient, I’ve even posted videos of our beach attendants setting up a happy hour and stuff like that. So, people who have been here and experienced these will comment on such posts and those who comment will evoke more interest and queries. These are just little things that allow you to set yourself apart, which you cannot achieve as effectively through a traditional website or the media.
Joe Pike, Travel Agent magazine: What can Barbados improve upon? And this could be many things—airlift, roads, infrastructure, anything like that. What could make the destination even better?
Zachary Moses of HE Travel: Make it gay. I’m serious. It’s not just for our clients but in general, especially in the United States right now, everything that is in the media is all about equality and that’s why I asked the question, “Are you guys doing gay marriage yet?” If Barbados says, “yeah, we’ll marry gay people,” you get a whole bunch of rich people, affluent people coming to Barbados just because they can get married and they don’t have to wait. And then, just the gay friendliness of a destination matters. The gay community starts going to a destination and they think that it’s a nice place and everybody else follows suit. But the gay community is usually the first set who start saying this is the destination that we want to go to. They start buying properties and renovating and before you know it, the straight community follows suit saying it must be a nice place. So honestly, Barbados has to cater to gays.
Eusi Skeete, Barbados Tourism Authority: The Caribbean doesn’t really feel comfortable to do so because we are quite conservative in our overall culture, but if anyone has a request I will work to meet it. It doesn’t matter to me at all but it’s not something that, I think, any of the tourist boards have been anxious in pursuing for one reason or another. At the end of the day, you have to understand the culture of the destination as well.
Joe Pike, Travel Agent magazine: Can a gay couple come here and feel comfortable being here? Can they hold hands in public without being harassed?
Melissa Chalbaud, Ocean Two Resort & Residences: Absolutely. Yeah, I would say so. I mean definitely at Ocean Two. I know from our staff—even in terms of training our staff—it’s completely acceptable. No one is supposed to make any sort of snide comments or stares, but the training matters because it’s not something that they are faced with on a regular basis.
Eusi Skeete, Barbados Tourism Authority: When I think gay-friendly, I think about a place that allows anyone to come to a destination and have a complete experience without feeling compromised in any way. I feel that anyone who comes to Barbados can feel comfortable enough in the destination and not be harassed—you can go out and certainly enjoy the good food, definitely be a part of the attractions, and have a good time. But I would still say that I don’t see us necessarily promoting Barbados as a gay-friendly destination in the near future. But at the same time, you won’t see us discriminate against anyone because of their difference of choices.
Dominic Hill, Journeys Thru Paradise: Just to add on to that, I’d like to point out that we always ask clients what they loved the most about Barbados. It’s not the accommodations; it’s not the airlift—it’s the people that make Barbados. They are very friendly and will accept anyone and everyone.
Fourth Annual Young Leaders Conference Slated For September in Las Vegas
Travel Agent’s Destination Immersion has been a monumental success in teaching young agents about new destinations, but by no means is it our only initiative to attract the future leaders of the travel agent industry.
The Fourth Annual Young Leaders Conference (YLC) will take place on September 9, at The Venetian Las Vegas. Agents who attend the conference will network and learn from ‘under 40’ travel industry peers. They will participate in a day long non-stop networking and dynamic education session specifically geared toward today’s young travel professional.
“YLC is the biggest Network Event of the year for me,” says Daniela Harrison of Avenues of the World Travel. “I love being able to brainstorm with my peers and learn hands-on techniques on how to improve my sales. Every year we develop some amazing new marketing strategies and get to tackle problems that various young agents face. Over the last few years, I have formed some amazing partnerships as well as some very strong friendships and I can’t wait to see what this year has in store for us.”
The event will cover topics that are relevant to the young leaders in the industry and how they conduct their business as well as showcase emerging talent.
“This year’s YLC is shaping up to be the best thus far, and I am really excited to see it all come together on September 9,” says Samantha Erickson, Questex Media Inc.’s event marketing specialist and co-coordinator for YLC. “Our Steering Committee has developed amazing content that is relevant, whether you have been a travel advisor for 10 days or 10 years. We’ve tweaked the format to better facilitate networking. Every advisor I’ve spoken with since the YLC 2012 loves the key relationships they developed with their under-40 peers and can’t wait for this year’s event.”
For more information or to register, visit www.ltxinternational.com/young-leaders-conference/welcome-young-leaders-conference.
|Jessica Sussman, Frosch International Travel; Ashley Walker, TravelSmiths; Ryan Mielke, Regency Travel; and Joe Pike, Travel Agent magazine.|