We’ve long said that the diaspora remains an untapped and lucrative “visiting friends and relatives” market for the Caribbean. Working out the kinks of the program by beefing up the incentives and committing to the effort beyond the recovery phase could pay off long-term for Grenada. – Lebawit Lily Girma 

 Pre-pandemic, tourism made up close to 41 percent of Grenada’s gross domestic product and 42 percent of total employment, according to the World Travel & Tourism Council. Two years later, the work to recover all airlift and tourist arrivals in this eastern Caribbean island continues. It’s a challenge that’s led the destination’s tourism board to innovate and launch a loyalty program for its most dedicated consumer segment: the 360,000 Grenadians who live abroad. 

Named “473 Connect,” referencing the country’s area code, Grenada Tourism Authority’s rewards program for the diaspora launched in March and is another example of destinations pushing the loyalty frontier to establish a more sustainable tourism future. 

“We are a small destination with very limited budgets and coming into the organization and recognizing that we have two people in the US, and we didn’t even have anyone in the UK but then we sent someone there, and we have one person in Canada — it’s a mammoth task,” said Petra Roach, CEO of Grenada Tourism Authority since April 2021. “You do a quick audit of who are your biggest advocates so that really is the diaspora.”  

Unlike The Maldives’ rewards program or Mexico’s unofficial loyalty program, there’s more to it than racking up points per visit. Grenada offers incentives — in the form of points  and discounts — for Grenadians abroad who agree to become “473 Connect ambassadors.”  

Sign up on the dedicated 473 Connect loyalty platform, complete an online 12-module training course on Grenada, convince people to visit, and refer them to a travel agent who then seals it with a booking.  

“We thought, let’s treat the diaspora like we would the travel industry, all the channels that we use all the time,” said Roach, adding that it cost little to launch the 473 Connect website and loyalty program, no more than $10,000. Most of the resources such as the training program were already available for travel agents.  

The loyalty program was designed in collaboration with Grenada’s Diaspora Affairs Office, as well as with members of the diaspora in North America and the UK. 

“We see the diaspora as a big tourism market, and for many years we have been championing that cause to really see the diaspora as a volume of tourists, visitors that we can tap, because not only do they come to see families, but a lot of them come home and occupy hotels, do tours,” said Derrick James, head of the Office of Diaspora Affairs in Grenada. 

James said that in August 2022, Grenada launched its first official diaspora policy, and that one of the pillars is tourism. “The 473 connect program, when it came up, was one of the things that we see as critical in driving tourism back to Grenada and helping build the economy,” said James. 

For Grenada Tourism Authority’s Roach, the program is just getting started and there are plans to push for the training and onboarding of more 473 Connect ambassadors.  

“We’ve got approximately 100 people who are signed up already; the US and the UK would be the biggest so far, which actually mirrors quite well the mix of business that we have for visitation,” said Roach. “We have a saying within the program — if every Grenadian in the diaspora sent a visitor to the island, we don’t need to do any marketing, literally.” 

More Bookings, More Points, More Perks 

Signing up on the dedicated loyalty platform and completing the training leads to a certificate of completion for the 473 Connect Ambassador, who can then begin “influencing” travelers to visit Grenada. The points are earned once an actual booking is made and the travel agent reports those points on the platform, as well as the name of the original 473 Connect ambassador. 

“If you’ve got four people in this thing for seven days, that’s 20 points; if you’ve got two people in this thing for four days, that’s eight points,” said Grenada Tourism Authority’s Roach. “So obviously, you’re pushing people to move in bigger groups and also to stay for longer, and then those points will be redeemed against things locally.”  

Twenty-eight points would be able to buy you a meal in a restaurant or a $50 voucher towards a meal, Roach said, adding that this phase was currently being worked on. 

The Grenadian diaspora member who collects the most points at the end of the year also wins an all-inclusive holiday on the island.  

It’s early days, but so far six travel advisors are listed on the back end of the platform, which means they’ve confirmed bookings made through a diaspora ambassador. On every booking, the advisor adds the email address of the 473 Connect Ambassador who recommended the traveler. 

Next Steps: Promotional Tours and a Discount Card  

Webinars are currently being organized, including promotional tours in key diaspora markets, and there will be fam trips for those 437 Connect ambassadors who are producing, said Roach. 

A second phase of the loyalty program is also under way: a discount card which diaspora members will receive once they’ve completed the 12 module training course, that can be used at a series of local accommodation providers, restaurants and shops in Grenada. 

But how easy will it be for a diaspora member to convert consumer interest into a travel advisor referral and an eventual booking?   

“The program can be a model for the Caribbean, however it takes a lot to manage and track who sells or recommends the destination,” said Kelly Fontenelle, a veteran tourism marketing professional and founder of Travel Advisors Selling the Caribbean. Fontenelle recalled that Saint Lucia once had a similar program called “Se Sannou” or “our thing,” which she hasn’t heard much about since. 

“Selecting the best ambassadors can be challenging; not because you are from the country you can sell it to everyone,” said Fontenelle, adding that she foresees training individuals to be one of the biggest challenges. “The diaspora can be a marketing arm for the destinations, but it has to be well designed to benefit all involved.” 

Grenada Tourism Authority’s Roach noted that between the time that people are signed up and the time they get people to agree to travel or they influence people to book a holiday to Grenada, there’s going to be at least three or four months’ time. But this is also providing time to continue implementing and developing the program’s various facets.   

Sarana Margaret Hector, a registered nurse and Grenadian who moved to the U.S. in 1993 and returns home to Grenada twice a year completed the 473 Connect certification process and said the loyalty program was realistic.    

“I think it could absolutely work,” said Hector, while adding that she did notice posts on social media that view the loyalty program as political. “473 Connect has nothing to do with politics, but that’s our people, the nature of the culture, we tend to tie politics into things.” Additional incentives may also help, Hector added.  

“It doesn’t minimize the effort that the Grenada Tourism Authority is making. Of course, you’re going to meet challenges when something is brand new. But as soon as it takes off, everyone will want to be a part of it. You just have to keep going at it.”   

An Untapped Resource 

Both the Office of Diaspora Affairs and the Grenada Tourism Authority are confident that Grenada’s diaspora are among the most committed, as proven during the global health crisis when many supported their home island in various ways. Hector was among them, returning home for a week in 2021 to help vaccinate Grenadians. 

“So we just want to make our diaspora be part of this whole initiative and not just see the Diaspora as one to send home material things, but to be also part of it because we want to make sure the diaspora understands that they are part of the development process of our country,” said Office of Diaspora Affairs’ James. 

For now, Grenada is on a steady path of recovery. Grenada Tourism Authority’s Roach expects to end the year at approximately 75 percent of 2019 levels. “That’s purely because we’ve had some challenges out of Canada with the lift,” said Roach, adding that optimism remains high as she expects the high winter season to begin earlier in October this year. “We are on a good trajectory; everyone is rising above and going beyond the call of duty, because there is no option for failure.” 

For James, the loyalty program is a win-win for all Grenadians and for Grenada. “To get the diaspora so involved in a program like that is amazing — how we could use our people outside of Grenada to really help in the development of our country. It’s an untapped resource center that we really don’t pay enough attention to.” 

Source: skift.com 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *