On Tuesday, 3rd November 2015, I attended the World Travel Market Conference (WTM) in London, UK, on behalf of the Grenada National Trust, to gain a greater insight into how other countries promote their heritage product.
This is the leading global annual event in the tourism calendar, the place to put your best foot forward and make connections that can drive traffic to your shores.
The event is of such magnitude that the numerous halls are split into regions of the world. I got my bearings and ventured over to the Caribbean section, which was sandwiched between the Americas and Latin America, a logical placement I suppose.
To my dismay, there was absolutely no Grenadian presence, at all. I did see personal representatives of the individual high-end brands of Spice Island Beach Resort and The Calabash Hotel networking. Also, the publisher of Discover Grenada was doing his rounds, other than that, nothing.
Now, before anyone starts making this a political argument, let’s stop right there. We also do not want to use this as an opportunity to lambaste the Grenada Tourism Authority (GTA). The issue here is much bigger than any entity or organisation.
The fact is that Grenada needs to stop competing with itself before it can start to compete with others. If tourism is the vehicle that we are pinning our economic growth on, how can we not have a presence on the most important stage. It is like having a shop that never opens.
I honestly thought the days were gone when Columbus ventured out and occasionally bumped into islands they did not know existed and then announced them to the rest of the world. If we are waiting for that to happen in Grenada, we are certainly going the right way about it.
Again, I say, let’s not assert blame here but look at solutions. Commonsense must prevail. How can people visit you, if they don’t know you exist? How do we compete with our peers if we don’t share the stage? Even worse, if we don’t even show up.
Most disturbing of all though is the underlying message we are sending out, which is ‘we just don’t believe enough in what we have to offer’, so, how can we expect them (visitors/tourists) too!
The problem we face going forward, in my opinion, has to be addressed in bite-size chunks. For, Grenada to be competitive as a tourist destination, the Caribbean as a region has to be significantly more competitive than it presently is.
Then, if by collaborative efforts we can attract more visitors to the region as a whole, we can then start to compete as individual countries with our differing products, services and experiences. This requires a big shift in mindset, whereby we share the problem.
Regional boards and Ministries need to come to the table with blank agendas and empathy for their neighboring islands. Yes, I am advocating working with your immediate competition, everybody wins. The disjointed promotion of the region, particularly, the Islands was extremely evident at the WTM. This is what prospective buyers of the Caribbean experience see and therefore gravitate to the more familiar destinations of Antigua, Barbados, Jamaica, St. Lucia and Trinidad & Tobago.
The GTA is charged with the responsibility for creating and promoting Grenada on the world stage and undoubtedly, they will be receiving much criticism from concerned stakeholders in the tourism industry, the most important stakeholders, being Grenadian citizens, themselves.
However, we cannot and should not criticise an organisation that is financially under-resourced to perform its duties. To compete on the world stage, is no easy feat when resourced properly. To do so, with heavy restrictions, is close to impossible.
I for one cannot judge their efficiency in such an environment. I will leave that to the day, when they are operating on a level playing field.
Grenada does not have the necessary infrastructure that can fast-track economic growth following a global recession. Our recovery is much slower and therefore out of sync with what is happening elsewhere.
This has a knock on effect in making Grenada, market ready for the demands of the ever transient tourist. Not only, does our lack of presence in the desired markets take a dive but our product development comes to a standstill as well. Yep, Limbo.
Time to take a deep breath. Our history shows that as a people, we are at our best when our backs are against the wall. This time however, the battle is about making us, first, financially viable and then profitable as a nation, the type of profit that can be felt in every household.
We must demonstrate our belief to remedy this situation, with affirmative action. We need to bring the best heads together – they do exist – to look at creative ways of addressing our obstacles. Not as a paperwork exercise, proposal or report, but as action oriented work-in-progress, that the people can see and feel.
We have to ignite the passion in the people of Grenada wherever they reside on the planet to share and promote our wonderful Tri-Island state to whoever is listening.
In terms of natural beauty, friendliness and safety, we are a world class performer. We have someway to go when it comes to product development and services, but where there is a will, there is a way.
Our prospective audience will understand and grow with us, if we connect with them, inform them and involve them. However, if we do not create the touching points, we will never realise our true potential.
God Bless Grenada, Carriacou and Petit Martinique.
Grenada National Trust