EDITORIAL : A plan for tourism

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The revelation that there was a only a small increase in visitor arrivals to our bit of paradise during the winter season, pales in comparison to the associated news that bookings for the summer season are slow at this time. The news came from Alex DeBrito, Chairman of the Antigua Hotel and Tourist Association (AHTA), during a recent interview, in which he shared his review of the past period and early predictions for summer.
The AHTA chairman warned, “It is still a bit early to make any precise statements, however, for the moment it is slow, the market is not responding very well so far,” as he explained that there are several factors which are having a negative effect on Antigua and Barbuda’s tourism pitch.  Chief among them is the perception of a new European season starting in June and a Football World Cup in Europe, which will affect arrivals from one of our main markets, the United Kingdom. 
While the news is not comforting, the monitoring and the reported response are.  And while the Tourism Authority is apparently doing everything to boost the product for the upcoming season, there always seems to be the lack of a cohesive, big-picture plan when it comes to our tourism product.  It astonishes us that no comprehensive study and master plan have been undertaken and developed to guide us to the next level of tourism.  If it has been done, we have not seen it and we pay particular attention to things like that.  But, we will get to that later.   We must admit that some years ago, we had sight of what appeared to be in the vein of this type of work but the project and planning seem to have withered on the vine. 
Until we find some way of diversifying our revenue, tourism is it.  It is the major money-earner and it is the engine that drives our economy.  As such, it should secure its fair share when it comes to allocating resources.  And when we speak of resources, we speak of not only financial, but expertise and focus as well.  We understand that most requirements for tourism can be broken down to the financial components but success is also driven by everyone being on the same page and singing from the same hymn sheet.  How can we, as a community, get behind our tourism plan if we do not know what it is?
That may seem like a naively simple question, but if we are going to be successful as a nation then we must all know the final destination and the path to get there.  How do all the pieces interconnect and how can we support the vision if the vision has not been communicated, or worse, does not exist? 
We know that there are going to be critics who will say that those types of studies are expensive and will ask “where are you going to get money to do a study?” but in response, we will ask, where are you going to get money when the tourists do not come to our shores?   
Tourism is more than having sun, sea and sand, along with hotels for people to stay and taxis to get the visitors to and from the airport. The industry is much more complex and requires expertise to formulate plans and execute those plans.  We need to constantly gather data to understand our customers and whether our strategies are working.  We need to identify our strengths and weaknesses so that we can better service those who choose our bit of paradise to spend their hard-earned dollars.
We also need a plan to show investors how they can best satisfy our needs and their needs for a reasonable return on their investment.  For example, there is no need to invest in a waterpark if our data indicates that our target audience is not interested in man-made water attractions and prefers nature in all of its splendor.  If someone wants to invest in a restaurant, that person or group should be able to consult with the authorities to get some guidance as to the enthusiasm for the restaurant type and  the area that would be best suited for establishing the business.  
This all seems like common sense to us, so we have to wonder why it has not been done before – again, not that we have seen.  If it has been done, some version of the plan needs to be communicated so that we can all get behind it and do our small part to make it a success.
We invite you to visit www.antiguaobserver.com and give us your feedback on our opinions.

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