Bahamas’ tourism minister at Cft-seminar: “Low cost access is key for stimulating tourism”

POSTED: 03/21/12 1:24 PM

President of the University of St. Martin Annelies van den Assen delivers remarks at the start of Tuesday’s seminar “Towards a strong economy for country St. Maarten” that was sponsored by the Board for financial supervision Cft in cooperation with the university and the Ministry of Tourism, Economic Affairs, Transportation and Telecommunications. (Milton Pieters photo)

GREAT BAY – To stimulate St. Maarten’s tourism economy, low cost access is key together with the experience visitors take back home after their vacation. Vincent Vanderpool-Wallace, the Minister of Tourism and Aviation in the Bahamas made these points in an inspired address during a seminar at the University of St. Martin yesterday afternoon.

The seminar, themed “Towards a strong economy for country St. Maarten”, was sponsored by the Board for financial supervision Cft in cooperation with the university and the Ministry of Economic Affairs. Cft-chairman age Bakker, Cft board members, eight Members of Parliament, Prime Minister Sarah Wescot-Williams and Minister of Labor Affairs Cornelius de Weever were among those in attendance in the university’s packed lecture hall. Economic Affairs Minister Meyers was not there but he met with Vanderpool-Wallace earlier in the day.
Though the budget-meeting in parliament was especially adjourned to give MPs the opportunity to attend the Cft-seminar, seven MPs did not show up. They missed Vanderpool-Wallace’s insights in the tourism industry and his ideas about how to bring it to a higher level. The Bahamian minister is a former Secretary General of the Caribbean Tourism Organization CTO.

Prime Minister Sarah Wescot-Williams (third left) sits with (l to r) Economist Denny Lewis-Bynoe, Minister of Tourism and Aviation in the Bahamas Vincent Vanderpool-Wallace and President of the University of St. Martin Annelies van den Assen during Tuesday’s seminar “Towards a strong economy for country St. Maarten” that was sponsored by the Board for financial supervision Cft in cooperation with the university and the Ministry of Tourism, Economic Affairs, Transportation and Telecommunications. (Milton Pieters photo)

“Countries that specialize do well on the world stage,” Vanderpool-Wallace told his audience.
“The secret is to look at your strong points and to make them stronger.”
He labeled tourism as “a peculiar economic tool: “You are not Walmart, because you only have one store on earth, and you have a product that cannot be shipped. Your customers have to come to it. So the costs to get there is a fundamental issue.”
Vanderpool-Wallace underlined an often heard mantra: Tourism is everybody’s business.
“Room rates are related to the total experience of the destination. If you think your hotel is unique and nothing else matters, I invite you to move it to the Sahara. Then see what happens.”
The Caribbean has an “asset utilization problem” Vanderpool-Wallace pointed out.
“If a hotel manager projects 70 percent occupancy for the next season, he’ll probably get a bonus. If the manager of Carnival Cruises comes up with such a projection, he’ll probably get fired.”
The keynote speaker warned against the internet as the digitalized archived word of mouth. “That makes it more important than ever to get the experience for your visitors’ right.”
But the internet is also a blessing, since all tourism destinations have for sale is information. On-line booking options are essential, also for smaller properties, he said.
To offer visitors a great experience, personality is important.
“That is a skill in the tourism industry. It’s a bit like the American definition of pornography: you can’t define it but you know it when you see it.”
But the key to all things are costs of access: the price of an airline ticket. When the Bahamas offered a $99 return ticket from Miami in 2008 in a reaction to the looming economic downturn, the site crashed.
“Everybody wanted that ticket and room rates did not matter,” Vanderpool-Wallace said.
“Low cost access led to an explosion of business.”
The minister also made a stand for promoting the Caribbean brand – a favorite topic of the Caribbean Tourism Organization.
“The Caribbean brand is unique: everybody knows it, but nobody owns it. The Caribbean is larger than all individual islands. That is why we have to work together; this will benefit all of us.”
Vanderpool-Wallace said that the Bahamas has benefited hugely of its revamped immigration card. This is used to collect data from visitors, and the information in turn is used to improve their future experience at the destination. St. Maarten has a similar project underway: TSIS, the Tourism Statistical Information System.
Economist Denny Lewis-Bynoe, the second keynote speaker at the seminar, said that the particular characteristics of small islands shape their economic reality.
“They have a limited ability to react to shocks, but a lot can still be achieved.”
A flexible labor market, human capital formation, being open for trade, strong institutions, social capital and civil liberties are important, she said.
The obvious choice for small economies is the export of services.
“That is logical, because these economies have no economy of scale-advantages for production activities.”
Lewis-Bynoe also pointed to the importance of diversification.
“Shocks to the tourism industry may have detrimental effects on the rest of the economy. And then, economic growth is not the only dimension. There must also be room for development and for embracing non-economic elements.”

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