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Visitors willing to pay more for authentic experiences

STC — 2019. St Vincent & the Grenadines

Tourists from the United States are willing to fork out up to six times what they currently pay for local cuisine in the Caribbean, a recent study has found.

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The research, which was carried out by the UK-based independent market researcher Euromonitor International, showed that US travellers generally were willing to pay big bucks for several experiences in the Caribbean.

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Sharing highlights of the survey at the Caribbean Sustainable Tourism Conference 2019 in St Vincent and the Grenadines on Thursday, Associate Consultant with Euromonitor International Julia Fillingame said tourists were becoming increasingly interested in community tourism especially if the activities were offered as part of a package.

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Tourists are seeking experiences on their trips. Our survey indicates that 44 per cent of global consumers look to spend money on experiences, which is a significant increase from the 39 per cent in the prior year,” said Fillingame.

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“We also noticed that tourists are more conscious of the environment around them. That includes the communities that they are visiting. So we can see a rise in the segments of impact tourism or responsible tourism,” she said

Zooming in on the US market, she said tourists were seeking more personalized VIP experiences that they indicated they were willing to pay for, especially if they were aware that the community was benefiting

“So among tourists respondents, those that were interested in these activities, let us know that for local tourism they were willing to pay up to US$300, but to make that experience even more valuable, they would be willing to pay extra to have a personalized experience and know what percentage goes back to the community,” she explained

The survey consisted of a mixture of exploratory and in-depth interviews, an online focus group and consumer research involving over 629 respondents in the US, and looked at 30 activities

Stating that only some of those activities were prioritized, Fillingame said they included farm-to-table experience, food and beverage tours, volunteering, homestay opportunities, school and culture immersion, farm tours, indigenous tourism, eco-lodge facilities and wellness

She said US tourists indicated that they were also willing to pay up to US$300 for food and beverage tours if the activity was “environmentally sustainable”, and about a quarter of the respondents were willing to pay more for a VIP experience

About 20 per cent of the respondents said they expected transportation to be included in the ticket price and at least half of those surveyed required a local guide to be part of the activity

“The one thing I want to highlight about this particular activity is that 20 per cent of tourists were willing to pay at least 25 per cent up to 50 per cent more for the personalized VIP experience. So for a ticket price of US$100 normally, they would be willing to pay between US$125 and US$150 just for this personalized experience,” explained Fillingame

“As we move into traditional cuisine – our local family restaurants – there is a great opportunity here as the current offering is currently between US$10 and US$15 across the region. However, tourists are willing to pay up to $100 if that experience feels authentic in nature, and attributes like organic certification and local produce also generate a greater willingness to pay among those tourists,” she said

The researcher said tourists also indicated that they were willing to pay up to US$100 to have a farm-to-table or culinary experience in the Caribbean where they can share in the making of the food from locally-produced items

“Environmental sustainability and personalized experience are all attributes that resonate among these tourists,” she said

She said the interest among the US visitor for those experiences remained high and so did the benefits. However, Fillingame said when it came to health and wellness, the interest was not as high as it was one or two years ago but could be if they were offered as part of a package deal

“So as the activities are currently presented, they need to be redefined whether repositioned, bundled with another activity to help move that into the priority over time,” she suggested

She also reported that there was already high interest among US travellers to participate in festivals, heritage site visits, wild-life tourism and natural habitat visits, but the way those businesses were set up they generated “lower benefits” to the Caribbean

She said only about ten per cent of the respondents indicated that they were willing to participate in a community-based tourism activity on their next visit to the region, but said she believed this number could increase over time once micro, small and medium-sized enterprises stepped up to the plate

Fillingame said the survey, which was done to understand the trends that were currently influencing travel from the US market to the region, also examined how tourists were booking their trips

She said it found that more tourists were opting to book their trip via their smartphones and recently there had been a shift toward using mobile wallet payment systems

As officials in the region seek to build out their community tourism products, Fillingame warned that they should not focus solely on the needs of the tourists but also that of the residents. marlonmadden@barbadostoday.bb