NASSAU, Bahamas -- Improving the visitor experience, boosting Out
Islands visitor numbers and increasing airlift are among the top
priorities for Bahamas tourism executives for 2003.
But perhaps the biggest priority, according to Vincent
Vanderpool-Wallace, director general of the Bahamas Ministry of
Tourism, is the region's relationship with travel agents.
The destination intends to more accurately foster agency
partnerships, with an emphasis on providing training for retailers,
"Our business still is heavily dependent on the advice and
recommendations of agents, and we will try to be the best partners
we can be," he said. "As time goes on, we'll find more effective
means to distribute through agents; if a customer wants to buy the
product directly, we will encourage them to talk to agents because
we are convinced that customers are suspicious of much of the
information available on the Internet."
Kerry Fountain, the ministry's general manager for North
America, said the destination is closely evaluating its ability to
provide the most useful information to retailers.
"I always tell the sales team that when they go into an agency,
to dig a little deeper -- find out exactly what people are selling
and find out how they can more effectively communicate with them,"
To that end, he said, e-mail communications must be packaged
properly for easy use, customization and re-use by agents.
Fountain said the ministry will continue to forge and maintain
relationships with major operators like Gogo Worldwide Vacations
and Travel Impressions as well as retail partners like American
"We will work with them, reach their consumers and educate their
agents to make them aware of the things we do."
In addition, the destination intends to increase its effort to
directly address the consumer, including the addition of an online
booking component on the ministry's Web site, at www.bahamas.com.
Direct booking is not a new concept for the Bahamas. Earlier
this year, the destination launched a one-stop shopping service for
customers to book inclusive trips directly through partner Paradise
"If [customers] want an agent, we want to provide them with a
Bahamas Specialist. If they want to go with a [retail] partner, we
want that agent trained," Fountain said. "If they want to book on
our site, we'll have that by the end of the year, and agents can
use our site to book as well."
Vanderpool-Wallace emphasized that improving on-island service
also is an ongoing effort of the ministry, especially in the coming
"Our focus is to be sure the vacation experience in the Bahamas
is the best it can be. That's the best thing we can do for agents
and customers, and that also provides the best return on
Vernice Walkine, the ministry's deputy director general, has
been tapped "as our destination experience czar," whose job is
making certain the visitor experience is very good, he said.
The ministry's goal is to have visitors communicate about
problems, Vanderpool-Wallace said, "while they are here, so we can
fix things before they leave.
"This will be the hardest thing for our competitors to copy, and
we know it will take a very long time for them to catch up."
In an effort to more accurately capture the profile of visitors
to the Bahamas, the destination is in the process of revamping its
visitor immigration card at a cost of about $1.5 million.
The card will be ready for use Jan. 1, Vanderpool-Wallace said,
and will include questions asking visitors to evaluate their travel
Visitors will be asked what agencies or tour operators booked
their trip -- a critical piece of information that thus far has not
been available on a national basis, he said.
The data will be used to "build business partnerships with
agencies in the future -- as [sales levels for] our Bahamas
Specialist program will become measurable -- and are not based
strictly on anecdotal information," Vanderpool-Wallace said.
The ministry intends to share only performance-related
information with retailers and consortia, and the data will serve
as a springboard for the launch of cooperative marketing programs
based on sales performance, Vanderpool-Wallace said.
The cost of the new immigration card, which will be amortized
over a period of two years, is "insignificant compared with the
insight and value of the information we will capture," he said.
Getting to the market
On the consumer front, the ministry is spearheading an ongoing
effort to "connect the dots" by collating information gathered at
the point of booking, from information requests and visitor
feedback, to get a closer picture of what clients are seeking in a
vacation, Fountain said.
The concept of customer relationship management (CRM) has taken
hold in the tourism ministry, Fountain and Vanderpool-Wallace said,
and efforts to collate visitor data in order to provide potential
and repeat visitors with customized sales materials will be ongoing
in the coming months.
"We are creating a single visitor database that will capture
information from the time a client calls to inquire about the
Bahamas through the time he or she leaves the islands,"
The creation of the database will enable the destination to make
more informed decisions on worldwide marketing efforts, he
The ministry also is seeking other means of targeting Bahamas
customers, looking beyond demographics, Vanderpool-Wallace
"We are looking for lifestyle tendencies that are in sync with
people who travel to the Bahamas," he said.
To that end, the tourism ministry is exploring partnerships with
varied interests such as restaurant chains, malls, specific retail
stores and even automobile manufacturers, he said, to build
cooperative marketing programs with businesses outside of the
By working with major corporations, such as car manufacturers,
the Bahamas can gain access to large, untapped markets, Fountain
The Out Islands
Driving business to the Out Islands is a primary goal for the
coming year, Vanderpool-Wallace said, and "a function of this is
making sure proper air service is in place."
The ministry is working with American Eagle, Gulfstream and
Bahamasair to boost service to these smaller islands, he said.
Night flights, which are now permitted in Eleuthera, Abaco and
Exuma, will be heavily promoted by the ministry by year's end,
Vanderpool-Wallace said, adding that night flights will increase
accessibility for short-stay vacationers.
"This will be a major difference for agents selling the Out
Islands," he said.
On the hotel front, the development of Exuma is the biggest
story in the Out Islands, Vanderpool-Wallace said, with the
construction of the Four Seasons Emerald Bay and 16 smaller hotel
development projects also under way.
For more on the Exuma property, see related article: Four Seasons set for Emerald Bay.