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Minister: Tourism sector bracing for ‘hard times’

Minister: Tourism sector bracing for ‘hard times’


The tourism sector is bracing for what this country’s Minister of Tourism calls a “hard time.”

This, as the world’s financial meltdown is expected to put a dent into the 2008/2009 tourism season that has just begun.{{more}}

It is still too soon to say how great an impact the slowdown will have on the eventual visitor arrival and spending numbers.

This, notwithstanding, at a press conference last Monday, November 17, Minister of Tourism, Glen Beache said that the hoteliers are already seeing the signs.

“Their advanced booking is not as good as it has been in previous years,” he said.

Beache said, contrary to a recently published article, Europeans will not forego their vacation plans despite the economic uncertainties. Beache believes that at the very least they will change their travel patterns.

“I think that what is going to happen is that more Europeans are going to take short visits instead of the long haul,” he said.

He argued that with neighbouring countries offering affordable and attractive packages, someone in the United Kingdom may choose to go that route rather than make the trip across the Atlantic to the Caribbean.

SEARCHLIGHT spoke with Dawn Smith, the Executive Director of the St Vincent and The Grenadines Hotel and Tourism Association (SVGHTA), who also expressed concern over visitor arrivals for this new season.

Smith said that it was too early for her to forecast what the numbers will eventually be, but word from the SVGHTA hotel membership is that occupancy is expected to be down.

She echoed what Beache said about advance bookings, but noted that it isn’t a phenomenon that started this year.

“We have also noticed in the past two to three years that persons are not booking months in advance. Sometimes bookings come just three to four weeks prior to the visit,” Smith said.

She, however, noted that they are not discouraged and are still hopeful that while the numbers may go down that “we will have a reasonable winter season.”

With the world economic climate as it is, marketing has become the focus – more so than hitherto.

Smith told SEARCHLIGHT that the SVGHTA membership has been doing some marketing and she also applauded the efforts of the Ministry of Tourism in this regard.

Among the notable marketing efforts being made by the Tourism Ministry, Minister Beache spoke of the partnership this country has entered into with Responsible Travel, a group that promotes eco-tourism.

This partnership got on the way in October and within the first four weeks some 1,200 persons have visited the Ministry’s website.

He said that he is also working on getting City TV, which is channel 62 in this country’s cable listing, to host a week of their morning programme, Breakfast television, here in St Vincent, early next year.

Aggressive marketing is also being done within the regional tourism market, a key tourism sector for this country, along with plans to infiltrate the Irish, and later, as finances allow, the Brazilian Markets.

Meanwhile, Smith said that despite the gloomy economic forecast facing the industry, she isn’t expecting to see any major lay offs by the hotels. Earlier this week, a popular Bahamas resort laid off 800 workers.

“No property here is laying off people. It is only if occupancy drops to rock bottom this year that you will see that. It will be a last resort,” Smith said.

Smith told SEARCHLIGHT that the SVGHTA wants to see a reduction in the cost of electricity and food as oil prices fall, which will help to lower the hotels’ overheads and cushion the impact of lower occupancy.

She is also waiting to see the introduction of the much touted inter island fast ferry services, which would give a cheaper alternative to would-be regional vacationers to get to St Vincent and the Grenadines, which augurs well for local hotels.

Minister Beache said that all has been done from government’s standpoint, including the necessary concessions to accommodate these fast ferry services.

He said that he believes that technical difficulties with the vessels is what is slowing down the service that was expected be operating out of Union Island months ago. (KJ)