How do you help an island paradise deliver on its promise to visitors? Vincent Vanderpool-Wallace understood that the Bahamas was much better at attracting tourists than at pleasing them once they arrived: "It's the experience, stupid."
Director-general, Bahamas Ministry of Tourism
FROM VINCENT'S ORIGINAL ENTRY:
What needed an overhaul?
The approach to tourism development in our country and the thinking of the "experts" in the tourism industry all appeared to be enamored of fancy advertising campaigns which were easy to change instead of focusing on the delivery of quality products and quality experiences. We were also convinced that the world famous slogan "It's Better in The Bahamas" detracted from the need to make the necessary changes in ourselves so we dropped it because our citizens believed it more than our visitors. If we were to change we had to believe that The Bahamas had to be better still.
What was the single biggest obstacle?
There was also the belief that tourism success comes from increasing head count instead of from increasing visitor quality and increased visitor satisfaction. As a result, much of the best brains and best energies were being spent in the marketing and promotions areas instead of in the product development area. The latter was the backwater of the tourism industry. In addition, the government owned several hotels that were dragging down the reputation of the country and they had to be privatized. So the focus had to be moved from headcount to quality and from marketing to product improvement.
How did you overcome it?
Established the understanding that tourism is the one industry in which all citizens are involved whether they like it or not because a single encounter with any visitor by anyone can determine whether that visitor would recommend The Bahamas or not. Move some of our better people into the product development area. Privatized most of the government owned hotels and insisted that they be flagged with known global brands to indicate a transformation of our plant. Finally, we established a private public sector coalition to tackle these problem that is now the envy of our region.
How have you seen results?
Visitor spending grew much faster than visitor headcount all of which reached record levels. The proportion of our visitors with an annual household income of greater than $80,000+ per year doubled from 28% to 60% in eight years. Visitors in the past four years have a significantly more positive opinion of The Bahamas than those visitors who came prior to that and compared to those prospective visitors who never visited at all. The last point provided clear evidence that the word of mouth recommendation is the most powerful form of marketing. Visitor intent to recommend reached the 90% level. The real heroes are the ordinary people of The Bahamas who worked together to change our view and change our vision. Instead of saying "It's better in The Bahamas. Our cry now is: "The Islands of The Bahamas It Just Keep Getting Better!" That is our daily collective task because it's the experience, stupid.