“Where there is no vision, the people perish: but he that keepeth the law, happy is he” – Proverbs 29:18
This year the Barbados Tourism Authority (BTA) celebrates 50 years in operation and its budget has recently been increased to BBD 90 million. The BTA’s functions, as stated in its website, are to: (1) promote, assist and facilitate the efficient development of tourism; (2) design and implement suitable marketing strategies for the effective promotion of the tourism industry; (3) make provision for adequate and suitable air and sea passenger transport services to and from Barbados; (4) encourage the establishment of amenities and facilities necessary for the proper enjoyment of Barbados as a tourist destination; (5)carry out market intelligence in order to inform the needs of the tourism industry; (6) register, license and classify tourist accommodation according to the standard of amenities provided; register and classify restaurants catering primarily to tourists, according to the standard of cuisine and amenities provided; (7) register and regulate such forms of service for tourists as the Minister determines; and (8) do such other things that in the opinion of the Authority would facilitate the proper discharge of its functions or would be incidental or conducive thereto.
Let us do a cursory assessment of BTA’s performance based on the articulated Vision and, where appropriate, let us prescribe some Action items to effect sustained economic growth in an environmentally friendly manner. The environment to which I refer, of course, is the holisitic experience including the spiritual, social, cultural, economic as well as the physical environment.
Is anyone called to account for the expenditure of BBD 90 million annually? How much is wasted? What is the growth rate which should be achieved by this annual expenditure? What growth rate has been actually achieved? This is our leading industry, we need to expand it.
Let us examine each BTA function in turn. (1)Tourism has certainly developed over the last half century – the annual number of long stay and cruise visitors has exceeded 1.2 million. (2) The marketing strategies are devoid of vision – same old, same old! The world is our oyster, why keep beating up on the Eastern seaboard of North America and parts of Europe year after year. What about the rest of the world? Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Central and South America, India, South East Asia, Japan and China. In India alone (population of over a billion people), even though there are 450 million people below the poverty line, I am reliably informed that there are over 350 million Indians who are wealthy enough to travel anywhere in the world and they are looking for new experiences. Just mention Cricket Legends in your marketing package – watch the response. Start with the Indians in North America and the Indians who visit relatives in North America and tap into this market. Pay for a representative from a tourism magazine based in Singapore, which is distributed throughout South East and the Far East, to come to Barbados and publish an article on Barbados – watch the response. The cost is less than US$ 5,000 airfare and a few complimentary room nights in Barbados – a no brainer.
(3) My son Kevin, who is a pilot with Emirates Airlines on the Airbus A 340, continually extols the virtues of this Dubai based airline. A map of the Emirates hub reveals that there are air links to almost every region in the world except the Caribbean, a preferred tourism destination. The BTA needs to negotiate airlift initially using an existing Emirates link to New York or Buenos Aires and ultimately getting our own direct link from Dubai which will pull traffic from Eastern Europe, India, South-East Asia and the Far East. It is an opportunity waiting to happen.
(4) Many countries in the Caribbean all claim to be the “Shopping Mecca of the Caribbean”. The BTA needs to partner with the local Chamber of Commerce in their Urban Renewal of Bridgetown project to implement a community vision for nationals, local residents and tourists alike in their quest to create the Barbados “Shopping Mecca of the Caribbean” brand based on greater turn over, high quality, and lower unit price. (5) Marketing Intelligence needs to be developed so as to determine the needs of the target market and satisfy them by developing appropriate services to satisfy these needs.
(6) The accommodation and culinary sector is diversified but we need to raise our standards to the level to which tourists from the East, in particular, have grown accustomed. (7) Training in the difference between service and servitude needs to be addressed more aggressively. (8) Barbados needs to ensure that journalists, both local and foreign, are doing justice to our attractive destination. What better way of doing this than for the BTA to make a regular booking, as Puerto Rico and St. Lucia have done, to host the Caribbean Media Exchange on Sustainable Tourism which has sustained 17 events for journalists around the Caribbean over the last seven years. Attention must also be paid to the potential impact of sea-level rise on coastal properties in Barbados over the next 50 years. What preventive measures will be taken? Let us focus on the change that is needed to renew our vision and find new “cheese”.