When I repeatedly hear that tourism is a fickle and unpredictable industry that cannot be banked on, apart from notably exceptions due to conflict situations, it is difficult not to express a wry smile. According to the latest United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) Barometer destinations across the globe welcomed 956 million international travellers between January and September this year. This is 34 million more than in the same period of 2015, representing a 4 per cent increase.
While you have to look carefully at the percentage increases, for all sorts of reasons, the big winners were Egypt – up by 30 per cent, Vietnam by 36 per cent, Korea by 34 per cent and Japan by 24 per cent. European destinations like Spain, Hungary, Portugal and Ireland all experienced a double digit growth. Eight other markets reported substantial growth, notably Argentina – up 27 per cent, Spain – up 19 per cent, India – up 16 per cent, Thailand – up 15 per cent, perhaps surprisingly Ukraine – up 15 per cent, Ireland – up 12 per cent and Norway – up 11 per cent.
Clearly these increases are not all price driven. Norway for instance has never, at least in modern time, been perceived as a lower cost or exceptional value-for-money destination. You also have to carefully study the main source markets. Visitors from China were up by 19 per cent, United States up by 9 per cent, Germany up by 5 per cent, United Kingdom by 10 per cent and France by 3 per cent. Due to their current economic and sanctioning challenges, it comes as no surprise that Russian visitors were down by 37 per cent.
Commenting on these figures, the UNWTO Secretary General, Taleb Rifai, stated that ‘Tourism is one of the most resilient and fastest-growing economic sectors, but it is also very sensitive to risks, both actual and perceived. As such, the sector must continue to work together with Governments and stakeholders to minimise risks, respond effectively and build confidence among travellers’.
Adding ‘No destination is immune to risks. We need to increase co-operation in addressing these global threats, namely those related to safety and security. And we need to make tourism an integral part of emergency planning and response’.
As we, on Barbados, enter the critical winter peak season, with seemingly impressive increases, from many of our source markets, it is imperative that we use our strengths of climatic attraction and added airlift to help take us out of the grave economic situation, the country faces.
Ultimately it is only our people who can make us the most desirable place to visit, by keeping the country clean, safe and welcoming. Of course our Government has an overall responsibility, but if we really want to ensure a better future for our children and grandchildren, every citizen both corporate and individual has to play their part. And while the overall cost of a holiday to Barbados may never be cheap, I urge our businesses, especially in the distribution sector, to look long and hard at their overall level of added price margins.
If we wish to stand any chance of maintaining the United Kingdom as our largest source market, with every indication that holiday packages for Brits will cost up to 20 per cent more next year, due to currency devaluation, oil prices and geopolitics, then you only have to look at comparative product costs online for identical purchases here and in the UK. It is almost impossible to accept that this can be justified by relatively low shipping costs and that an element of price gouging is not taking place.