Latin America Promotion Probing Successful

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Results from an over $600,000 cooperative promotions budget to market Copa Airlines’ new Bahamas direct service are already evident, according to Tourism Director General David Johnson, who pointed to that airline’s high-80 percent load factor as evidence.

Telling Guardian Business yesterday that the Ministry of Tourism is treating the first two years of Copa’s service as ‘launch years’, Johnson said that much of the over $600,000 budget has been used to generate initial demand with ‘maintenance’ marketing to continue.  Locally, the effort is underway to increase the foreign language capacity of front-line staff in the tourism sector, according to Johnson, as promotions in Latin America are set to intensify.

“The sales we’re seeing where these flights are starting to operate near to the high 80% load factor in the first two months, that’s an indication that the flights are well-received,” Johnson said.

“...In addition, given what the service means from a potential perspective, we are in the process of allocating funds for the next fiscal year, and Latin America will receive even more attention so we can fully exploit [that market],” Johnson said.

The entities co-operating in the promotion budget include Copa Airlines, the Ministry of Tourism and the Nassau Paradise Island Promotions Board, according to Johnson.  He said conservative estimates are that the Copa Nassau-Panama direct service will result in about a 35 percent increase month-over-month, year-over-year on Latin American business.  In 2010, The Bahamas recorded 20,714 stopover visits from Latin America, according to the Ministry of Tourism’s Tourism Today website.

The current promotions effort has a strong online component, Johnson said, with advertising and direct promotions to the travel industry also key features.  Copa itself has a strong network as a member of the Star Alliance — the oldest and a  world-leading airline alliance.  Promotions also include magazine ‘lifestyle’ photo shoots with leading figures in Latin America, the director general said.

According to Johnson, in May, prior to the first Copa flight, over 100 Copa Vacation operators were hosted in The Bahamas during their annual convention.  Johnson said the May convention allowed a first-hand opportunity for operators to experience the destination and for the ministry to educate them.  Operators were fairly impressed, many having no previous understanding of the Bahamian tourism product, according to Johnson, who added that the quality and sophistication of the destination came as a surprise to many.

“Without exception they all felt very enthusiastic that this would be a fresh new product for them to promote to their customers,” Johnson said.

Locally, efforts have been underway to ensure the front-line tourism service providers have the necessary foreign language skills to properly service increased visitor arrivals from Latin America, where the primary languages spoken are Spanish and Portuguese.

“We’ve done a lot to prepare and we’ve come a long way from where we were last summer, after the Copa inspection team realized it would be something they needed to address,” said Johnson.

“Bahamians have rallied under the co-direction of our own foreign language unit, [headed by] Sheena Newton.  Supported by the Bahamas Hotel Association we held a workshop that was oversubscribed and that process has continued unabated.”

Johnson said that Spanish is now being spoken more frequently by front line staff in high-traffic areas — by, for example, the Ministry of Tourism’s airport staff, and at front desks and casinos.

“We are already much further ahead than we were five months ago and it’s continuing,” Johnson said.

President of the Bahamas Hotel Association (BHA) Stuart Bowe said that last March, the BHA commenced Latin American cultural and language awareness activities for the industry and hotels in a joint workshop with the Ministry of Tourism.

“At the workshop, hotels and tour operators shared with one another the various readiness activities they were undertaking,” Bowe said.  “This prompted many other tourism stakeholders to learn from one another and since then a number of training and readiness activities have been underway in the businesses.

“Atlantis has taken it to another level where employees have formed a Spanish Club on the property to encourage regular use of the language.  We have also partnered with The College of The Bahamas and the Ministry (of Tourism) to conduct a number of courses on learning Spanish for the hospitality industry.  Thus far, over 200 persons have taken these courses.”

Johnson said the private and public sectors coming together for this effort was critical to its success.

“This initiative with Copa stands out as one of those initiatives where we had full and complete private/public sector cooperation to enable this to happen, so I think its important that the team play and the team effort be recognized and that it becomes even more so an [effort] that we become committed to in driving our development of new markets.”

He continued, “We together with the board and the Airport Authority tackled this project and created an opportunity where there was none in a very short period of time because of that.”

The Nassau Guardian
June 21, 2011