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Sarah Thomson

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Brilliant online travel companies like AirBNB are slowly squeezing the hotel industry particularly in tourist destinations like the Caribbean. Many travellers are now discovering that in the Caribbean all beaches are public, this means everyone has the right to be on them. Where once hotels seemed to have control over their stretch of beach that is no longer the case and they are now having to compete with small businesses that are sprouting up just to rent beach chairs to AirBNB guests. What this means is that you don’t have to stay directly on the beach to have the beach experience. And travellers are starting to realize a quite villa on a hill above the ocean offers much better experiences.

The first victims of AirBNB are the “garden view” hotel room suites. Why would anyone choose to pay for a small garden view room, when they could rent a large room in a home with a view of the ocean for far less, and get free access to a number of beaches?

In Barbados a family can rent a 4 bedroom home through AirBNB with a pool, an awesome view of the ocean, and public beach access 5 minutes away, for just under $300/night. Compare this to one Superior room at the Marriot hotel in Barbados for $220/night and it is easy to see why the hospitality industry is in turmoil.

Add to this the rise of “Beach Clubs” like Nikki Beach and there is little reason to rent a room at a large corporate hotel.

So what is the answer? How can corporate hotel chains survive when AirBNB has so completely changed the playing field?

They have to start adapting to the change and offer more than just a room. They need to take a lesson from the small boutique hotels that are succeeding by attracting travellers with “experiential” opportunities. For starters, the land costs for a boutique hotel smart enough to know they don’t have to be right on the beach, are much lower. Boutique hotels offer travellers the chance to experience local culture and many of them set up partnerships with local businesses. Successful boutique hotels provide on site programming (yoga and cooking classes, nature hikes etc.) giving travellers more than just a room on the beach, but a memorable experience.

Corporate hotels have to change the way they do business. Sweeping policies that once guided their developments need to be strategically evaluated. For example here is a quote given by a development manager at the Marriott  “We are currently interested only in a beach location for a luxury or an upper-upscale brand in Barbados.” That kind of archaic thinking is why so few of the large hotel chains succeed on islands like Barbados, where boutique hotels owned by private families control the luxury market.

Corporate hotels have a choice – change now or slowly watch their profits wither.

Fairmont Royal Pavillion

Patrick has 34 years of financial and operating experience, most recently as CFO of the Technicore Group, a vertically integrated heavy civil construction enterprise. Has been a CFO…

To make some sort of difference in the world, no matter how small. Like the hand print our ancient ancestors left on a cave wall, we all want to leave our mark on the world. But what is it that makes some of us willing to push beyond our experiences, and our credentials, to take on challenges that others think impossible? I’ve heard some call it courage, but I’m more inclined to think it is a fear of not leaving that vital hand print.

I’m now on a journey to build environment centres and eco-glamping hotels in the Caribbean that will work to lower C02 emissions through education. I’m armed with my experiences of building a successful business and running an advocacy organization. And while some critics might think lowering C02 emissions impossible, I’m betting that if we create luxurious eco-vacations that provide environmental experiences to affluent travellers we’ll be able to reach people when they have time and are most open to learning. By attracting affluent travellers we will reach influencers from around the world, who will take our environmental message back to their home cities and combined with the work that so many other organizations are doing, we’ll have a chance at contributing to bringing about positive change.

The wonderful aspect to this is that by creating eco-glamping hotels not only will be creating great experiences for affluent travellers, and high returns for investors, but we’ll be setting an example of how to operate a green fully sustainable business.  Our first boutique glamping resort with be in Barbados.

I know I’m going to need a lot of help and sometimes I think I’m just the person rubbing the sticks together to create sparks, it’s those other people who have joined us and are providing fuel to the fire who are truly making the difference.

All of us try in our journey to make the world a better place, the key is to do it with grace, humility, and compassion.

North to South is a social enterprise with a mission to move Caribbean nations from their dependence on burning fossil fuels for energy to using of renewables. With most island nations fully dependent on burning heavy oil to create energy, a structured and focused effort must be made to bring about change. This will require a long-term dedicated strategy, and with C02 emissions in the Caribbean increasing rapidly, an organized effort to educate communities, and move government policy forward is essential.

 

Our first step will be to set up a centre in the Caribbean where we can work to educate the public, support advocacy efforts, and build both our influence and credibility across the region. We must ensure the project is self-sustaining; it must attract influencers from around the world; and it must integrate with local communities. To that end an eco-boutique glamping hotel and environment centre, offering unique programming will supply a perfect base for our work. It will bring together influencers – affluent travellers from around the world – with local advocates and educators. We will offer classes in art, nature, organic cooking and farming to travellers taught by local educators. We will host an annual music and art festival to raise awareness around the use of fossil fuels in the Caribbean.

 

Our mission to move the Caribbean from burning fossil fuels to using renewable energy will shape our programming, and in turn, the programming will attract affluent travellers providing income to sustain our work.

 

After extensive research Barbados was chosen as the island to begin our work. It attracts a large number of affluent travellers, has a shortage of luxury hotels, and a large number of daily flights from international cities around the world. It is also an island heavily dependent on burning fossil fuels for energy.

 

North to South is developing a large plantation into an environment centre and eco-boutique hotel. It will be fully off the grid, with a low carbon footprint. It will offer unique luxury glamping experiences and bring the local community together with the international environmental community. Once our environmental base is set up in Barbados we will create partnerships on other islands.

 

It will be a long process, but one well worth setting out on. If you would like to join our journey, please email me directly at sarah@sarahthomson.ca