SABA — The results of the Saba Tourism Master Plan 2023-2028 were presented to the tourism partners and the community during two individual sessions on Thursday, December 8. The elaborate document named three top priorities: increase accessibility to Saba, ensure resources for the Tourist Office and raise tourism awareness among the local population.
The Rosen College of Hospitality Management team of the University of Central Florida presented the plan at the Eugenius Johnson Center with stakeholders and at the Queen Wilhelmina Library with members of the community. Besides informing people on the results of the strategic tourism master plan, the sessions served to get feedback for the final version of the plan titled. Presentations were also given to Commissioner of Tourism Bruce Zagers, the Executive Council and the Island Council.
The master plan was the result of 10 months of extensive, bottom-up research which included five island visits, four surveys (both local and abroad), 60 individual interviews and five townhall/informative meetings. With visitors’ statistics lacking, the researchers used the data from the EHAS electronic application system which was in place during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Thursday’s presentation covered the findings from the surveys about how Sabans perceive tourism, residents’ support for tourism development, tourists’ perception about what Saba has to offer, how tourism development can help Saba’s aspirations for change, the needs of American tourists who are Saba’s largest source market, the ideal Caribbean destination in relation to Saba, opportunities for change and what attracts tourists to Saba.
Nearly four (39%) out of ten survey respondents indicate that they would visit Saba. Their motivation to select Saba as their destination choice is relaxation and unplugging, wellness, culture, Mount Scenery, and diving.
The Tourism Master Plan offered important findings. Saba lacks a cohesive tourist image. There is a disconnect between residents’ views and tourists’ perceptions regarding Saba’s authenticity and uniqueness. Sabans in general undervalue tourism. Saba is underleveraging its tourism product. Tourists are willing to pay more for Saba.
5 strategic directions
Five strategic directions for the next five years were identified in the Tourism Master Plan. The first is accessibility. The focus on accessibility is to increase airlift by adding a third daily flight, and to maintain the subsidy on ferry transportation to the island. The second is to create and promote tourism development among residents through awareness programs and public relations.
The third strategic direction is to improve collaboration and trust amongst stakeholders and the institutional governance structure. As the fourth strategic direction was identified the building of capacities though trainings for product development and procuring the necessary financial resources. The fifth strategic direction is to increase the economic value of tourism competitiveness.
Double visitor arrivals
The Master Plan proposes to build a unique tourism experience leveraging authenticity and nature to benefit the community, local businesses, and tourists, and to enhance the community’s resilience. It also proposes to increase residents’ support, to double international arrivals from 9,629 to 19,181 per year, to increase arrivals spending from $162.4 to $198 in five years and to increase the total tourism economic contribution from the baseline of $12.2 million (24.3% of the island’s economic output) to $18.7 million (35.6% of the economy).
It was suggested to focus on niche marketing centering on lifestyle characteristics of the Saba visitor: The Authentic Experiencer who cares about sustainability, the community, culture and the local experience, the Active Experiencer who loves being outside, a healthy lifestyle, diving and hiking, mindful living, and the Nostalgic Experiencer visiting friends and family. The Master Plan presented a market tagline, ‘Unspoiled, Authentic, Unplugged, Saba just for you.’
The Tourism Master Plan was drafted in collaboration with the Dick Pope Institute for Tourism Studies, the research arm of the Rosen College of Hospitality. Besides Dr. Robertico Croes and Dr. Kelly Semrad, who were on Saba for the presentation, the team was led by Dr. Manuel Rivera and Dr. Sergio Alvarez.
Director of Tourism Malinda Hassel said the Master Plan serves as a guideline with strategic action points that will be further looked into. Details will follow, she said. Commissioner Zagers, who attended both presentations on Thursday, said the Master Plan provided the tool to further work on Saba’s tourism development based on concrete information and data. He encouraged collaboration among the stakeholders. “Let’s work together to bring quality to tourism and work on what tourism should be for us all,” he said.