Thursday, July 24, 2014

The Pure Grenada Story

‘Pure Grenada’ began in 2012 when Ethical Ideas was hired to develop projects for the Grenada Hotel and Tourism Association (GHTA). After consulting with the Board of Directors I designed two projects - a sustainable energy campaign and a marketing campaign. My company facilitated the adoption of the GHTA's 2012 Earth Day Declaration where the Members agreed and then published a release stating they wanted to be the first carbon free destination in the Caribbean (or world, if possible).

The period between 2009 and 2012 was extremely difficult for the tourism sector and Grenada’s economy as a whole, with an overall growth rate of -1.2% (yes that’s negative) during that period. Ethical Ideas was hired through a grant provided by the Canada Fund for Local Initiatives to conduct a member survey and prepare an economic recovery plan. The findings of the survey were startling: 47% of hotel properties surveyed indicated that they would be closing/foreclosing by 2015 without a tectonic shift in the way the destination was managed. The sector, which influences 20% of the GDP and ¼ of the national employment, could not afford to fail in such absolute terms without serious consequences for Grenada as a whole.

The core recommendations of the Economic Recovery Plan included: increasing airlift services to Grenada; improving destination marketing; reducing energy costs and carbon footprints; pursuing commercial finance solutions; developing Grenada’s human resource base, and developing a sustainable tourism policy.

There was a change in Government in February 2013; followed days later by a default on a payment to the World Bank. The newly elected government inherited an insolvent nation and was forced to embark on an immediate structural adjustment programme to address the XCD $15 million dollar monthly deficit and soaring debt burden. Ironically, this was a financial situation not too dissimilar to the one the Hotel sector was facing.

The Hotel Sector Economic Recovery Plan was received by the Prime Minister and Minister of Tourism, in a formal presentation with Canadian diplomats, and it was taken very seriously. Fortunately, the Minister of Tourism in this administration, Hon. Alexandra Otway Noel had considerable past professional experience in Tourism, enabling her to step into swift action. The Minister immediately embarked on improving airlift, closing the Grenada Board of Tourism (GBT) and opening the new Grenada Tourism Authority (GTA) and addressing the other recommendations contained in the report.

Meanwhile, Ethical Ideas invited the Discovery network TV series, “Survivorman” to film 2 episodes in Grenada while the Tourism sector donated their time, services and hospitality to the film crew for the duration of their time on island. The filming took place in July 2013 and aired in December, reaching 2.2 million ‘targeted’ viewers who would likely value the unspoiled features Grenada has to offer. In the narration of both episodes, the star of the series, Les Stroud asserts Grenada’s natural beauty and unspoiled characteristics should earn the designation a world heritage site.

The same day the Economic Recovery Plan was published, the GHTA submitted a proposal to Compete Caribbean, which led to the preparation of a Cluster Competitiveness Improvement Plan (CCIP) written by Inter American Development Bank (IDB) consultant, Ken Heynes. Before the plan was completed, Ethical Ideas consultant Jennifer Alexis volunteered her time and her professional networks to support a 2-day ‘visioning’ exercise that would focus the sectors definition of what Grenada’s value proposition was. The exercise which was fully supported by the Ministry of Tourism marked the beginning of a public private partnership (PPP) between the government and the GHTA.

Volunteers who were brought in to support the process included: Russ Jarman Price, Chairman of the Caribbean arm of Inglefield Ogilvy, Mather; Jonathan Tourtellot, Geotourism Editor, National Geographic Traveller Magazine, along with Wendy Turner and Laura Bombier of Les Stroud Productions. The workshop, hosted by the Minister of Tourism and facilitated by Jennifer Alexis featured presentations by Russ Jarman Price, Jonathan Tourtellot and Martha Honey, was hugely successful in determining Grenada’s value proposition. It was obvious to everyone in the room on both days that Grenada’s personal touch and her unspoiled ‘geotouristic’ characteristics were the value proposition. The group brainstormed together until ‘Pure Grenada’ was born. The session featured 2 days of meetings with a cross-section of stakeholders spanning varied tourism sub-sectors, agri-business, civil society, academia, legal affairs and Grenada’s public service.

In November, 2013 a Cabinet presentation was made by Alexis and Price outlining Pure Grenada and the idea became official. At that time, the CCIP was submitted to the Compete Caribbean investment panel and was unanimously approved. Confident that funding would follow shortly thereafter, the team of brand champions began to work on a voluntary basis. A private screening of the Survivorman Grenada episodes was planned for the beginning of December; but due to delays in the arrival of project funds, the event was cancelled. The “Survivorman” Grenada and Frigate Island episodes aired on the Discovery network in the first quarter of 2014 with dozens of re-runs worldwide. In the same month, the Government closed the GBT.

In January 2014 the Government of Grenada opened the GTA and the Minister of Tourism was eager to ensure the new destination marketing arm had a brand in hand to promote Grenada with. The costs associated with creating a corporate identity could not be incurred twice and the government was reluctant to incur expenses to promote Grenada with the old brand for a short period of time. In addition, the strength of Pure Grenada was becoming increasingly evident and the Minister was concerned about protecting the identity. With assurances that the Compete Caribbean funding contract was being prepared; the GHTA and the Government agreed to launch Pure Grenada on Valentine’s Day.

The importance of the Compete Caribbean project to the brand launch was pivotal; because the project was developed to provide financial resources to develop Grenada’s market positioning and social media exposure. The PPP that had been forged to develop the Pure Grenada identity depended on those funds – particularly at a time when the Government was having difficulty meeting its financial obligations thus limiting the availability of funds that had been budgeted for the GTA in the national budget.

Following the February launch, the GTA and the Minister of Tourism focused on external promotions – knowing full well that with the limited budget they had – it was imperative that they succeed in generating a great big wave in the international market if they were going to succeed in saving half of Grenada’s hotels from closure the following year. While the GTA and the Minister did their work overseas, the ‘Pure Grenada’ team (Laura, Russ, Jennifer and the GHTA) continued to volunteer their services to get the brand off the ground.

Thankfully, they were successful and the international market did respond. By the end of the first quarter of 2014, growth rates in Grenada’s three main markets had grown on average by 6%. By the end of the second quarter, that growth more than doubled to approximately 18%.

If the Pure Grenada brand had not held so much potential for becoming a catalytic force in Grenada, it is unlikely that the change in the tourism brand would have been noticed. But Pure Grenada’s power was quickly recognized, and a broad based public discussion developed. Not surprisingly, in an island culture where change happens slowly; the focus of the discussion was on how Pure Grenada might impact Grenadian’s “Isle of Spice” national identity.

Up until this public discussion arose, there had not been any consideration into the possibility that changing the tourism destination brand could be perceived as a threat to Grenada’s national identity. In fact, just three years earlier the Marine and Yachting Community, along with the then Board of Tourism had changed the tourism brand identity to ‘Grenada Grenadines’ without anyone taking much notice.

Following about a month of discussion on talk shows, TV shows and community meetings, the Prime Minister determined that changing the tag line from “Free to Wander/Wonder” to “Spice of the Caribbean” would be a suitable compromise that would put the brand on a win-win footing. The tag line was officially adopted by Cabinet and public debate subsided immediately.

Taking note of this, checks and balances have been put in place to make sure that the brand does not fall victim to political cycles; by formalizing the brand partnership between the GTA and the GHTA so that in the event that the government ever decides to give up the brand, the brand will revert wholly back to the GHTA as the entity that commissioned it in the first place.

Russ Jarman Price who is one of the world’s leading experts in branding has noted to Grenadians that an effective brand isn’t just a ‘selling’ tool – it stimulates culture change that makes a company/destination/product more competitive. Since the 2013 Ethical Ideas publication of the Economic Recovery Plan had posited that Grenada’s competitive advantage was in sustainability and niche market development; the brand has been a catalytic influence towards mainstreaming this concept.

In July of 2013; geotourism, sustainable tourism, niche market development and competitive advantage were completely absent from the development discourse on the islands of Grenada. In July 2014; it is the primary consideration of both the GHTA and the GTA, a guiding principle for the Minister of Tourism who has become its greatest champion, and a rallying call for many stakeholders outside tourism who see their own community and business interests aligning with Pure.

Following the 3rd Symposium for Coastal Innovators in Tourism; Grenada has benefitted from 147 delegates from Grenada learning about the linkages between development, tourism, society and the environment and how these linkages can both threaten and benefit Grenada. In the closing plenary, Grenada’s Ambassador to the United States, Dr. Angus Friday asserted that he would like to see Grenada become a world leader in geotourism; a statement that was been met with resounding support by participants. A geotourism workshop hosted by National Geographic geotourism Editor, Jonathan Tourtellot the following day, formally cemented this commitment with the Public Private Partnership (PPP) team members of the GTA and the GHTA.

The proposed next steps include a public engagement series that will deepen Grenada’s engagement with Pure; by involving people on the basis of sector (agriculture, fishing, artists, etc) to define their ‘geotourism goal posts’. These goals will then be crafted into a road map for going forward locally; while the sustainable message continues to be shared internationally.

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