By NATARIO McKENZIE
Tribune Business Reporter
The Minister of Tourism yesterday defended the decision to amalgamate four US tourist offices into two, telling this newspaper: "There are many ways to skin a cat."
Dionisio D'Aguilar was responding after his predecessor, Obie Wilchcombe, told Tribune Business yesterday that he should have given the Washington D. C. and Los Angeles tourism offices "a chance for another year or two" before deciding to combine them with the New York and Houston locations, respectively.
He told Tribune Business yesterday: "The technical people, the professional people from whom I receive my advice, disagree with the former minister and therefore recommended the amalgamation of those offices.
"Obviously you look at your cost and see what you are yielding from those markets, and where you can become more efficient. Just because you don't have an office there doesn't mean that you don't service that market. There are many ways to skin a cat."
Mr D'Aguilar added: "You can put an office there or send people in that market once every month to arrange meetings. It's not like every single day you are meeting with people, five days a week. Many companies that sell items don't position people in the market continuously. What they do is they develop relationships and go into the market a week at a time and meet people and try to yield results.
"We don't have an office in Boston but that is an important market to us. Philadelphia is another important market, so is Charlotte, but we don't have offices there. In this day and age the market has changed.
"In the good old days, people would buy their vacations from travel agents. The purpose of the BTOs (tourism offices) was to go to these travel agents and try to influence them to influence their customers to pick the Bahamas. That business model has changed. At least 50 per cent of people now buy their vacations online. You have to direct your resources to social media and online to influence people online to choose the Bahamas."
Mr D'Aguilar argued that given Budgetary constraints, it was impossible to have a presence in every single market. "Given our Budgetary constraints we can't afford to have an office in every city. This is the electronic age and, if you want to see someone, you can make an appointment, jump on a plane and meet them and that's a lot cheaper than establishing a presence, giving someone a home, a housing allowance and all of that," he added.
"Everyone in the Government is looking at things. Everyone is going to say we shouldn't cut this or that. We have a huge national debt and everyone has to look at what makes sense. You have to use a business head here. We didn't remove people just from those offices; we removed people from throughout our system in the United States.
"We brought 12 people home and closed those two offices. I have had a $14 million cut in my budget, a 20 per cent cut in my budget, which was required. If I have to spend a ton of money on overhead and salaries then that means that less and less money will be spent on marketing the Bahamas, which is the mandate of the Ministry of Tourism. That $1 million, instead of going into overhead, will now go into marketing."