“You are bringing some strange ideas to our ears, and we want to know what they mean. For in Him we live and move and have our being. As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are His offspring'” – Acts 17:20, 28

We have been discussing the expansion of the size of the economic cake in Barbados.  This is a useful development strategy at any time but more so when we are faced with pressures from the international environment which result in high fuel and food prices and which threaten the well being of all of us but especially the more disadvantaged in the community. What better place is there to start than with the leading industry, the tourism industry?  We have been at this business now for over 50 years and it is time to renew our vision.  We have had relatively good success; we should not rest on our laurels.

Barbados enjoys one of the highest GDP per capita levels in the Eastern Caribbean and an investment grade rating which benefits from its political stability and stable institutions. Tourism is the main driver of the Barbados economy, by itself contributing nearly 15% of the island’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP).  Income is more equitably distributed than in most countries; there is a highly developed infrastructure of highways, seaport and airport; there is total availability of electricity, water and telecommunications services;  there is a well developed national security safety net for the disadvantaged; crime rate is relatively low; social and political unrest  are virtually absent; civil and democratic rights, irrespective of religion, ethnicity or gender, are deeply entrenched in Barbadian society.

The unemployment rate in Barbados is the lowest in the Caribbean and the government continues its efforts to reduce unemployment, to encourage direct foreign investment, and to practise a governance system involving a social compact, which is a consultative mechanism including the government (political directive and civil service), the private sector and the trade unions.

Barbados is a preferred Caribbean destination among the British, who are the leaders in total arrivals, followed by the Americans and the Canadians. Other visitors originate from Europe, South America and other countries in the Caribbean. What about the rest of the world?

It was reassuring to note in a recent newspaper report that the potential of Russia as a source market was explored when the Barbados Tourism Authority (BTA) met with key Russian tour operators during a meeting in Moscow.

It was reported by the BTA that “There is no doubt that Barbados is seen as an destination to which the wealthy in Russia aspire, many of whom want to visit despite the distance to travel. We are looking at ways of simplifying the airlift and assessing the increase in Russian visitor numbers we might attract. Our meetings were a tremendous success and we are now looking to develop key relationships further.”

What about the wealthy in India, Africa, South East Asia and the Far East. Last year, when my son Bevan and I were in Singapore we had dinner with a journalist colleague of his who was an executive of a tourist magazine with a large distribution in the East Asia and Far East region. He asked her what would Barbados have to do to get exposure in her magazine. Her reply was immediate and to the point. Invite me or one of my colleagues to Barbados for a few days and you will have a story about Barbados across our distribution network. Does the BTA know it is that simple? The longest journey starts with the first step.

A familiar question is “What happens when Cuba opens up?” If we continue to market in the same way that we have been doing, in a new Cuban tourism dispensation, then the future of tourism in Barbados could be severely threatened. We must diversify our market and stay ahead of the competition.

Another appeal from the tourism authorities is to diversify the tourism product for the discerning wealthy visitor.

Herald the advent of the new Bridgetown Centre which promises the concept of a virtual cruise ship in the middle of Bridgetown. Get on board and you never have to leave until the cruise is over – a totally upmarket self sufficient experience for the wealthy at home and abroad.  This is a good example of a local tourism service diversification initiative spearheaded by Lalu Vaswani and Chandru Thani.

The planned Bridgetown Centre, which will be opened later this year, is a contemporary and spacious mall located in the heart of Barbados’ capital city  Bridgetown, and catering  to both local and international clientele. This will boost Barbados’ image as a premier tourist destination and evolving Caribbean shopping mecca.

The Centre is ideally suited to international businesses offering a diverse mix of branded products and services that will complement those already available in Bridgetown. It offers space for 20 specialty shops, plus provision for a conference facility, a 65 seating capacity restaurant and bar and a six-unit international food court, with the entire complex attractively set in a streetscape designed to enhance the mall’s elegant interior.

These innovative ideas will diversify our tourism product and contribute one idea at time to the development of a sustainable economy.