I could not help but notice the Editorial in the Friday edition of the Barbados Today under the heading Tourism’s Challenge. The editor, like most others who have been making comments about the Barbados tourism product and the quality of it, stop short of making what I consider some very critical points.
Let me start today’s article by agreeing that Barbados does have an aging tourism product and along with the aging product comes many of the ills associated with it, such as inefficiencies in the ability to use technology and taking advantage of green technology. The d?cor and image of much of the tourism product, when compared with other Caribbean locations seems to be lagging.
Before comparing the Barbadian tourism product to other jurisdictions however, I feel that it is necessary to understand how others are making the type of progress that they seem to be making and we cannot. I have been travelling all over the world, throughout the Caribbean in particular for a long time. It is my observation that a lot of the tourism plant development over time has been driven by private sector initiatives.
Over the last 15 years, tourism development in Jamaica, some other English-speaking countries and the Spanish Caribbean in particular, has taken place at a rapid pace. My understanding is that most of this development has been driven by some of the large tour operators who were willing to do joint ventures by committing capital in exchange for special contractual rates for a specified period of time.
This type of joint private sector partnership has lead to the development of some fantastic properties and at the same time created some pricing disparity and a widening of the perceived value proposition within the region from the consumers.
I will never claim to have all of the answers to every situation, but I believe that this scenario is worth researching and debating. The question of who is the true beneficiary of these arrangements is one which I would love the answer to, and who is really in control of these fantastically developed properties.
I somehow get the feeling that the above financing model is one that may not sit well with the majority of Barbadian hoteliers; I am also of the view that it does not have to be the only possibility either. I believe that Barbados has a fantastic opportunity to lead the way for an alternative model. The BHTA introduced the Tourism Fund over seven years ago, with the potential to move our tourism product and marketing to unprecedented levels. The challenge as I see it is that the fund is a voluntary one and too few players are participating. Imagine what could happen if this fund became mandatory and hotels that are now afraid to participate for fear of loss of business became part of the fund. I feel that instead of generating a million dollars a year perhaps that figure could be five million.
Imagine what could happen if we had a fund that generates five million dollars annually, and we were able to use that fund to lobby for $200 million specifically for tourism product improvement and marketing.
Lastly, imagine what could happen if we used the proceeds from a fully activated tourism fund to offset the impact of the interest rates for properties accessing the loan funding and being able to repay these loans at extremely low interest rates which would not hurt operational cash flow.
I believe that this is where we need to take the tourism discussion in this country. This can pave the way for public/private sector partnership never heard of before anywhere in the world.
* Tourism is our business, let us play our part.