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2004-08-06 16:30:12

Tourism Gatekeepers Strive To Enhance Product

''I believe we have focused too long on numbers and not considered the importance of the product,'' said Tourism Minister Obie Wilchcombe.

Hotel operators from throughout the Family Islands met in strategic sessions on Wednesday, crafting recommendations about how to improve the tourism product that is indigenous to every island.

It's an area that officials of the Ministry of Tourism have been pondering as they follow an aggressive plan to promote individual islands of the Bahamas.

“I believe we have focused too long on numbers and not considered the importance of the product,' said Tourism Minister Obie Wilchcombe. “I believe had we focused on the product we would have had even more today.'

Mr. Wilchcombe was addressing the annual general meeting of the Bahamas Out Island Promotion Board comprised of executives from hotels and resorts around the Family Islands.

The most recent statistics indicate that The Bahamas welcomed an estimated 2.4 million visitors during the first five months of the year, an increase over the same period last year when the figure stood at just over 2 million. Overall stopover visitors have increased by six percent while cruise visitor arrivals shot up by 20 percent.

In New Providence, air arrivals climbed by six percent. Also, air arrivals in Grand Bahama experienced a 15 percent increase.

Quite recently, the World Travel and Tourism Council [WTTC] projected that  Bahamas-based tourism and travel will reap a projected $3.6 billion in overall economic activity this year, growing to over $7 billion in another decade.

But still tourism officials have acknowledged a deficiency in the product that the Bahamas has to offer; from service in restaurants and hotels to the ambiance at ports of entry.

“I believe we could take greater advantage of this tourism industry if we concentrate on the product more. I believe that the product will sell the Bahamas….In our country we have a lot but we are not working on the total product,' the tourism minister said.

Recently released statistics seem to bear that out.

During the first quarter of the year, out of the more than 30,000 tourists who were polled, 46 percent said hotel rooms, hotel food and service either met their expectations or fell below them. In those cases they chided hotel workers for their attitudes, criticized run down hotel properties and contrasted their experience with other resort destinations.

But figures for January, February and March, compiled through Immigration departure cards, also showed that 54 percent of the visitors to Nassau and Paradise Island said these key areas were much better than expected.

The Ministry of Tourism is actually trying to get this figure to climb to 95 percent, which is also the projected target for convincing tourists to recommend the Bahamas to others.

The newly elected president of the Bahamas Out Island Promotion Board Jeff Birch, based at a property in Andros, sees the organization as an important tool.

Officials of various hotels pay a $150 a year membership fee and their hotel guests a charged a levy that keeps the organization going. In return they have access to the organization's marketing and promotion expertise.

“It is a voice and a vehicle for these hotels to lobby with the government and with other agencies and also to assist in getting a common vehicle going for advertising promotion and that sort of thing so that we can get visitors and tourist to the out islands of the Bahamas,' he told the Bahama Journal.

His fellow executive, Kerry Fountain, endorsed the rationale and stressed the importance of evenly concentrating on the tourism product, place, price and promotion.

“We have to be keepers of our product, we have to be caretakers of our product or else no one is going to come here and that is where marketing starts, with a product and a product is not just beautiful beaches and a nice hotel, but it's the service that you get at a restaurant, it's the quality of the food, it's the transportation to get there,' he explained.

Tameka Lundy, The Bahama Journal

 
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