William Griffith was appointed CEO of Barbados Tourism Marketing Inc in October 2014, and the tourism industry veteran brings with him a wealth of experience gained both in his native Barbados as well as in Bermuda, where he has worked for several years. He spoke to The Report Company about the current status of the Barbadian tourism industry.
The Report Company: How would you appraise Barbados as a destination and as a country?
William Griffith: Barbados is about to celebrate its 50th year of independence in 2016. Fifty years ago, the country was led to independence by Sir Errol Barrow, and one of the major things that he did at that time was to ensure that every Barbadian was afforded a free education. This drive to educate the country enabled us to have one of the highest literacy rates in the world, and it helped to position Barbados today. We are unique in terms of the education of the people.
We have the perfect climate, and we have a great location that enables us to attract the US visitor as well as the UK visitor. Today, we are the most popular destination from the UK to the English-speaking Caribbean. We enjoy significant service from British Airways and Virgin, and we have been known as ‘Little Britain’ for many years. We have this cricket affinity, and for a long time we have had significant awareness from people from the UK. Barbados has enjoyed this top of mind awareness that a lot of other destinations don’t have.
In tourism, we have a very good balance; our hotel product goes from the luxurious side all the way to bed and breakfast. We have been able to have one destination which is ostensibly upscale, but that can at the same time cater for a wide cross-section of visitors. In terms of the positioning of the destination, we are able to go after the honeymoon market, the events, the sports, and even the culinary aspect. We have events such as the Crop Over festival, which has become a real musical extravaganza.
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TRC: How is the tourism sector doing?
WG: We are enjoying a significant growth in tourism, which is as a result of the increased airlift. We have gone from 10 flights a week on British Airways to 12, and we’ve got Virgin too, and we have also seen the opening of new all-inclusive hotel products. There are some other major projects that are about to commence. Like most countries, we have had a challenging period since 2008, but we think that we have turned the corner somewhat and I think that we are poised to rebound.
TRC: Is the focus on increasing tourism numbers?
WG: It’s about sustainability. We want to grow visitor expenditure, so it’s about really going after specific events and promotions that have a positive economic impact over the long term.
When it comes to product, we think that Barbados has a lot to offer. That’s really why the ministry of tourism carried out the massive restructuring it did just over a year ago. Out of the old Barbados Tourism Authority, they created the BTMI which is my company, which is a purely destination marketing company, and then another company which looks at the licensing and the standards and the service attitudes and the friendliness of the people, and encourages local entrepreneurs to get involved and create new and innovative products.
We still have our major tourist attractions, the St Nicolas Abbey with the rum, the historic Bridgetown and its garrison which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and Harrison’s Cave, and those are really iconic places that the visitors love to go and see.
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TRC: What are your main focuses?
WG: I came in to help with the repositioning and to move away from what I call the traditional way of marketing or promoting, with travel agents and tour operators and so on. I want to move more towards online and digital marketing. At the same time, you have to find that balance between the target market for the destination and how they consume their media. What you find is that affluent customers still to some extent rely on the traditional media, so the intent is not to move away from it; the intent is really to create more of a balance in terms of how we operate.
I came here from Bermuda, although I am Barbadian. My first government role so to speak was as director of tourism in Bermuda in 2008, and then I took on this current role as a challenge to make my contribution to my country after so many years.
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TRC: You were at the World Travel Market in London, what reactions did you see toward Barbados’ presence?
WG: Our UK business increased last year by 14 percent and this year by about 18 percent, which I think is a reflection that there is a certain amount of buoyancy in the market. The World Travel Market is an expensive show, but it is one of those shows that we consider very important in order to build and consolidate that awareness. We are the number one destination in the English-speaking Caribbean, so we have to have a presence there. We actually increased the size of our booth by at least 40 percent this year to meet the demand from the hotels who wanted to participate. We were busy from the first bell to the last bell. We received a lot of very positive responses. Overall, we considered it a huge success.
TRC: What would you like people to understand about Barbados?
WG: Barbados is truly a gem to visit and to really interact with people. It is one of those destinations where it is safe and it is clean and it’s got a vibrancy and a buzz that doesn’t exist in many other places. It is so unique. I am proud to be a Barbadian, and proud to be working in this environment, and we promote our island for people to really experience what a unique destination we have.