Antigua points way to future of destination marketing with direct approach

The Ministry of Tourism for the Caribbean islands of Antigua and Barbuda is encouraging its hoteliers to use the internet to drive up direct bookings as it struggles with the impact of APD and demands from tour operators and agents.

A new official website was being showcased last week at World Travel Market by the Caribbean destination, built on the Ceros digital publishing platform.

The site, created by Incite People, was first launched at last year’s WTM, but a new version has now gone live which embraces a modern multi-channel, multi-screen approach.

The Caribbean Tourism Organisation says the region has been hit hard by rising levels of APD which incentivise UK travellers to opt to holiday in rival destinations and reduces the spending power of those that do come.

A delegation which met with the UK government last week put its case for a fourth successive year and is awaiting a response, although the UK government has shown no sign that it is prepared to review the controversial air tax.

Incite founder Oliver Turnbull said APD is damaging the tourism industry in a region that relies heavily on UK visitors.

He added that despite not having the huge budgets of rivals, the site puts Antigua among the leading world’s destinations in terms of its online strategy.

“As a destination we have to talk to people across so many different channels, through iPads, mobiles, through Pinterest, through Twitter.

“You cannot build apps for all of them and no one is going to pay for that. But we can get into this wide open market collecting people’s emails and driving them back to our site.”

Turnbull said the new site places a premium on rich content, in particular video, and pointed to a new high-quality diving video which took just two hours to turn around and publish.

“We can deliver world-class user experience through many channels using one application [Ceros]. This gives us engagement across multiple channels. We are doing it one way and offering one experience.”

Antigua’s hoteliers are being encouraged to embed the content into their own websites to enhance their own direct-to-consumer offering.

The island’s tourism minister, John Maginley, said: “We are giving people the opportunity to book direct.

“We have to keep building brand Antigua and giving people the option that we can have our own customers. Operators promote their own operations, not Antigua.

“Once we develop this site and people get accustomed to talking directly to Antigua we are going to see a significant amount booking direct.”

Maginley said Antigua’s hoteliers have become too reliant on third parties like operators, and hoteliers squeezed by the demands of operators and agents were now waking up to the need to develop direct business.

“Recessions are very good at prompting you to look at your business model. Suddenly when you are not making money you will look at everything.”

Turnbull said in-destination suppliers and hoteliers are facing increasing demands to find marketing budgets to tour operators despite huge downward pressure on visitor numbers and room rates.

“The digital revolution in Antigua is really happening. Stakeholders are getting there now people have seen the benefits of digital and it’s becoming behavioural,” he said.

“When everyone is demanding marketing budget from you with this you can drive direct relationships.”

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