Feature: China ??? A New Tourist Market For Barbados To Explore

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"Barely one decade ago, few would have predicted the likelihood that Chinese tourists could even dream of making it to the paradise-like destinations in this part of the world, nor that the Caribbean would so much as find itself in much need of China as a tourism source market."

This observation was made by Ambassador of the People’s Republic of China to Barbados, Wei Qiang, recently, when he addressed participants at the recently held seminar entitled: Engaging China: Options, Opportunities and Strategies, hosted by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade and held at the Lloyd Erskine Sandiford Centre.

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Barbados’ Ambassador to China, Sir Lloyd Erskine Sandiford (FP)??

Coming out of that seminar, one thing became apparent after each presenter spoke about Barbados engaging the Chinese market. That was, the urgent need for Barbados to maximise its relationship with the world’s most populated country and to start to penetrate their market with Barbadian goods and services.

And, with the goal of attracting more tourists to this island’s shores, along with the need for market diversification for the survival of the tourism industry, it has been suggested that China could provide Barbados with a completely new type of tourist.??

None stressed the need for this better than former Prime Minister and Barbados Ambassador to China, Sir Lloyd Erskine Sandiford, when he declared that "the days of preferential markets are over" and that Barbados should "no longer hope to hang on to the coattails of those metropolitan centres".

Emphasising that, "we need more investment in the tourism plant…" Sir Lloyd further stated, "I advocate a special focus on the markets of China and East Asia which are the most promising and resilient in the world trade today and into the foreseeable future."

The characteristics of Chinese tourists and the spending power of this immense group are favourable for any destination.?? China is now the world’s second largest economy with enormous international reserves; as a result, there is a growing Chinese outbound market of 60 million visitors with a spending power of approximately $42 billion.?? Therefore, this would suggest that perhaps, Barbados is on the right track by seeking to actively pursue the Chinese tourist market.??

This was also underscored by lecturer in tourism at the University of the West Indies (UWI) and Chairperson of the Tourism Advisory Council, Dr. Sherma Roberts.?? She pointed to international research which illustrated that Chinese tourists have been ranked as the world’s third top tourism spenders, with this segment predicted to grow by at least 20 per cent.

Stating that this was an extremely attractive market for Barbados to pursue, Dr. Roberts noted that traditionally, Chinese people travel in large groups of approximately 30 to 40 persons and their average length of stay was about 13 to 15 days.

"I think that is quite an astounding figure, because, in my mind, I am thinking spend in accommodation, attractions, [spend with] the entrepreneur, the retailer and the shopping experience [and] that is quite a lot of money that can filter through our economy," Dr. Roberts said, also explaining that buying gifts was seen as a symbol of status in the Chinese culture hence shopping was vital to their destination experience.??

Barbados currently offers a high-end tourist product (amongst others) and the tourism lecturer suggested that Barbados should aim to engage that country’s luxury market.

"China’s new affluent class has a significant appetite for traveling.?? There is a high affinity for status symbols, they expect VIP [treatment] and exclusivity… there is a preference for international chains… they participate in activities such as golf, gambling and shopping for luxury goods; so the new LimeGrove facility is a really good inclusion in Barbados’ tourism product," she observed.

It was also noted that Chinese tourists have a preference for multiple destination trips and Dr. Roberts added that the Caribbean was very well positioned to take advantage of this.

This suggestion also came from Vice Chairman of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress of China, Chen Changzhi, on a recent parliamentary visit to Barbados in November, when he told journalists, "I think that Caribbean countries can pool their tourist resources together so that tourists can enjoy the different landscapes and natural beauty of various countries in this region in one stop."??

Director of Marketing Services of the Barbados Tourism Authority, Bernard Phillips, who spoke at the seminar on Engaging China, also acknowledged this trend. He explained that Barbados was working on becoming an "add on" destination from countries in this hemisphere that the Chinese tourist currently frequents.??

Mr. Phillips said that Barbados had received Approved Destination Status from China in 2004 and noted that it would help Barbados to position itself to benefit from that country’s tourist export.

Moving forward, how Barbados prepares to host this new type of tourist is critical. Securing buy-in from all stakeholders in the industry, and Barbadians in particular, is vital for gaining and retaining success.??

But, that is another topic to be explored in part two of China – A New Tourist Market for Barbados to Explore.

shamkoe.pile@barbados.gov.bb

Author: Shamkoe Pil??
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