Last week I spoke about the debate raging within the tourism industry. Most agree that we have a marketing problem. But that is where the agreement ends. There is still no agreement as to how we should brand Trinidad, Tobago and of course, Trinidad and Tobago.
Yes our marketing budget is only US$10 million which is closer to tiny Dominica’s budget of US$4.5 while the Jamaica Tourist Board budgeted just under US$30 million for marketing in 2010. Barbados is usually around US$50 million. Yet it is more than just money as we still have a complex product proposition with separate and often inconsistent messages.
This week I wanted to continue the conversation in light of the feedback I received from stakeholders – particularly those Tobagonians who are passionate about this industry and who continue to email me their thoughts and ideas. Thank you. Here are four (4) interrelated issues we confront in the discussion around marketing Trinidad and Tobago.
Firstly, there is crime. If you look at the per capita murder statistics on the Nationmaster website, it comes as no surprise that the top 3 in the world are Colombia, Jamaica and South Africa. But what tends to come as a surprise is that the only English speaking Caribbean destination to consistently deliver growth in visitor numbers over the past few difficult years is Jamaica. Colombia continues to defy the world recession (and civil war with FARC etc) to deliver growth in their arrivals. South Africa also continues to be a popular destination. Do not get me wrong, crime is a serious issue that needs to be dealt with. From a tourism perspective however, I can understand when some argue that crime issues mean that a destination needs to pay even more attention to strategic marketing. Colombia’s tag line is – ‘The only risk, is wanting to stay’.
Secondly, there is the importance of public – private – partnerships. For long haul tropical destinations like ours, it is not sufficient to look at how and how much a destination’s tourist board spends. It is also important to look at how and how much a destinations’ hotels spend. I remember when I worked in the UK travel industry – everyone knew that there were Caribbean hotel chains with budgets larger than many countries. Jamaica-based Sandals and Beaches is rumored to spend between US$30 – $70 million annually in marketing. I remember one year in the UK, when they gave away cars (yes, plural) to the top selling travel agents. With incentives like that, which destination and which hotels do you think the average travel agent would switch sell you to? That leads me to point three.
Thirdly, part of Jamaica’s success is in diversifying its market. They were the subject of much criticism when they first welcomed the large Spanish hotels. In the early part of the last decade, I have to admit that I was among those who thought they were making a big mistake and would cheapen their brand. Now, as I examine their visitor statistics, I readily admit that I made a mistake. Jamaica has not just successfully expanded their stock of top class rooms but they have diversified their market to incorporate Spain and now China. An experienced hotelier explained to me last week that – “…in the last couple of years they have added some 10,000 new hotel rooms.” Jamaica benefits from “the very considerable amount of marketing funds invested in promoting such brands as Sandals and Super Clubs, and now the Spanish newcomers like Iberostar and Riu…[this] needs to be added to the national destination budget to get a complete picture.“
Fourthly, it is important that we identify a feasible product development strategy. Marketing strategy cannot be discussed without referencing a product development strategy. Without suitable product, we will use marketing to “over-promise and under-deliver” – which only turns customers off. Product is not just physical infrastructure like hotel room stock, but includes ‘soft’ product such as our community tourism and festival promotion strategy. We have amazing cultural events each month but aside from carnival, have yet to successfully package and market them. Given that other destinations are cheaper, closer to mainland markets, advertise great beaches, boast newer hotels, the one area where we can possibly defend a comparative advantage is arguably our culture. American Tax Singapore
Our arrivals continue to slide downwards and Tobago especially is under pressure. We cannot continue doing the same things and expect a different result. As I was told last week, this is not time for ‘business as usual’. It is time for ‘business UNusual’. My name is Derren Joseph and I love my country. As always, I end by saying that despite our challenges, we are so blessed to live in this beautiful land. Let us continue to have the audacity of hope in the future of our beloved country.