I still find it remarkable that after so many years that such an exceptional property, like Villa Nova remains unsold and empty. Yes of course it has its geographical challenges competing with what is perceived as the traditional form of tourism accommodation, but when you have only 24 or so rooms to fill, there are always creative ways of marketing the product.
And anyone really studying what is known of our myriad of accommodation offerings will soon realise that it has changed dramatically in the last twenty years. Not that long ago, the CEO of Marriott hotel group boasted that they planned to add 30,000 rooms within that next year. The co-founder and CEO of Airbnb, Brian Chesky, countered hours later by stating ‘we will add that in the next two weeks’. Last week Airbnb announced that they were divesting into other areas of tourism by offering tours and sporting activities alongside accommodation. Prior to 2008 no-one had heard of Airbnb, but now they have over 1.5 million lodging listings in 34,000 cities across 191 countries, including hundreds of properties on Barbados. Nathan Blecharczyk, the Chief Technology Officer at Airbnb and rated by Forbes, as one of world’s youngest billionaires at the tender age of 32 years, stated ‘we’re thinking beyond accommodation’.
Adding ‘there was a demand from travellers for personal connections while travelling’ and the company ‘is looking at paring hosts and guests for tours, playing sport and other activities’. ‘But connecting with real people having a good time, that’s something not currently available in the professionalized world of hospitality’.
Several years ago while escorting our walking tours around the island I was dismayed by the number of former plantation houses falling into disrepair and in some cases dereliction. My idea at that time was to try and encourage the owners, either current or future, to turn them into a small chain of Plantation Inns, with around 12 rooms per property. It would have created rural employment centres, requiring gardeners, security officers, driver’s for beach shuttles, maids, chef’s and serving personnel among others.
Clearly our visitors are craving more ‘real’ experiences and while it is seemingly impossible to compete with the mass market mega resorts and low cost destinations, we can offer unique niches as in this case, rather similar to the plantation inns like The Hermitage, Montpelier, Nisbet and Ottley’s on the islands of Nevis and St. Kitts.
We seem, as a destination, to be missing a lot of what could prove invaluable information and data about our visitors and exactly where they all stay. While the subject of re-designing our airport landing cards has been discussed ‘ad infinitum’ and even if this is done there is no absolute guarantee that we can garner all the facts needed to make intelligent marketing decisions. But surely it would help and the statistics gleaned could better assist the entire industry spend their limited promotional budgets more productively.