OPINION: Reversing the tourism low-season

The content originally appeared on: Antigua News Room

Reversing the tourism low-season

By Cdr. Bud Slabbaert

Seasonality is a reality in the tourism industry in the Caribbean, bringing less demand and lower revenues. The low-season calls for a diversification strategy targeting a different customer segment than the traditional vacationing tourists to drive the business activities and sales.

‘Bleisure Travel’ and ‘Bizcation’ are hybrids blending business and leisure travel that are growing in popularity. Company Retreats and trips that are designed to combine work meetings, team building, developing a company culture, and cross-department deliberations with recreation are also an opportunity for a destination to grow business during the low-season. Unfortunately, and awkwardly, they are often not pursued.

Corporate and team building retreats are events where a team gathers outside the usual work environment in an inspiring location to talk business, and also socialize and have fun. Most corporate retreats last for a few days, with extra time for travel. Typically, the group will stay at a hotel or a house rental with a schedule of activities that mix work, dining, and play. As for the latter, they might head to the Caribbean and indulge in some watersports while planning the company’s future.

The promotion of Company Retreats must emphasize the incredibly effective way to connect people and solve challenges together. After all, businesses are primarily looking for impact and results. The effect it has is most important to them. The destination is just a pleasant environment for it. This lucrative niche tourism is about hosting a fantastic event that businesses and their employees will love.

And so, the tourism offices and hospitality stakeholders have to take a different approach than what they are used to and make product adjustments accordingly. They’re not always easy to plan since one has to virtually get out of the tourism dress and put on casual corporate attire with a business cap on the thinking head; reasoning primarily corporate and secondarily travel leisure. The advice on how to make a retreat the most valuable may come from an event planning specialist or consultant at the venue or tourism authority who assists to identify, customize, and facilitate a company’s distinctive expectations.

They must propose a Company Retreat program that does include pre-planned itineraries yet also attractive packages that complement the retreat by offering appealing services by partnering local businesses or professionals. It is an unusual task that may just need that special person to figure out ways to incorporate leisure or relaxation into work and events. As for team building efforts it may be called ‘productive play’.

A destination can offer a number of concepts for different purposes to guide overall goal guide corporate budget planning, the agenda, and the finer details. A structure when the day starts and ends, with meetings and activities that are required which are blank slot for the company to decide, and scheduled personal in-between downtime to refresh and unwind.

Team building retreats aren’t just for relaxing under a palm tree at a beach as the typical tourism promotions suggest. It needs time and space to introduce or discuss big plans. Retreats often help finding breakthroughs and innovative solutions. Challenges will be discussed in an ‘unconference’ style. For instance, in a ‘hackathon’ which is a session where the group engages in rapid and collaborative planning to come up with fresh ideas for the design of a new product or creating a unique service. Include exceptional program options. There should be no hesitation to include a yoga session in the morning or a mediation meeting towards the end of the day.

The program may include seminars by visiting off-island specialists on topics like leadership, customer behavior modification, future trends and innovation potential, just to name some. A list of available experts should be available for the choosing.

The program could bring in tours or workshops by local professionals or authentic culture artists to provide a different view on matters contrary to what is normal standard in the work environment at the business headquarters. The meeting planner at the destination may include some adventure or exploring.  As combining work and play is the novel approach, it can encourage heading in a newfound direction or bring fresh enthusiasm to what you do.

Multinational companies may choose a Caribbean location for a retreat. Participants from various geographical remote locations may meet in person for the first time and shake someone’s hand. An occasion to get to know colleagues at a deeper level and strengthen bonds. And give them a high-five for future cooperation before departing to return home.

The Caribbean Retreat can build up a positive reputation and a different positive image that is highlighted and raved about in specialized industry magazines which are read by company decision making executives. Quite different from the endless reports and reviews in travel magazines. New audiences and new opportunities for growth and reversing the seasonality in the region.  It is thinking beyond the box of conventional tourism and leisure industry. Retreat programs are a new product to focus on.

It will also encourage repeat private visits with family or friends of those who were introduced to the destination during the Retreat. With that in mind, make a photographer and/or videographer available for the event to snap the moments that colleagues of the ‘internal’ team can view without being with the ‘outside’ group. Snaps to share with friends and family afterward and on social media. A priceless promotion for the Caribbean destination.





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