Barbados is expected to record a massive decline in the tourism sector this year, and it could have a significant trickle down effect on the local economy.
President of the Barbados Hotel and Tourism Association Patricia Affonso-Dass informed the body’s third Quarterly General Meeting at Hilton Barbados Resort this morning, that based on current trends, all indications were that the initially-forecast decline of 1.1 per cent over 2011, may actually reach up to nine per cent for 2012.
And as she made these remarks, Immediate Past President Colin Jordan this afternoon further explained that it could mean more lay-offs in tourism, more workers on short weeks; less visitors to attractions and activities that were already challenged, and even flow further down to taxi operators and the average man on the street due to decreased foreign exchange and by extension less spending.
Affonso-Dass revealed that over the past year, Barbados had seen a continual drop in occupancies.
She said data for long-stay arrivals for the first three weeks in August suggested figures were down by 13 per cent and year to date, down 5.2 per cent with declines in all markets except Trinidad and Tobago.
The BHTA leader noted that there were major declines in this island’s number one source market, the United Kingdom, of 17.9 per cent in August.
“Over the past year, we have seen continued closures in hotels and other tourism businesses,” the hotel executive reported.
Since 2008, she continued, the industry had lost some 30 hotels, apartments and guest houses, resulting in a loss of about 1,300 rooms and a number of attractions, including AVT Quest, Ocean Park, Graeme Hall Nature Sanctuary and Harbour Master.
The hotel and tourism leader pointed out that the industry has faced continued increases in operating costs and taxes at levels which outstrip the sector’s ability to raise rates and remain competitive in the light of ongoing depression in major source markets.
“We have been talking about public sector reform in Barbados for years now, but we still have countless, needless frustrations to the sector that could be removed if the will was simply there to do it,” asserted Affonso-Dass.
The legislation, she insisted, exists, but the approach and commitment to change need to catch up.
Jordan though said along with the commitment and will, the reality now was that the main marketing agency, the Barbados Tourism Authority, needed money.
He told Barbados TODAY stakeholders were continuing to hear about areas where money was owed by the BTA, adding that although that agency had an annual budget of $80 million or so, it would not take that much to jump-start the industry again. In fact, he suggested a $5 million or $10 million injection, with money taken from some of the social agencies and areas, could help significantly, at least over the rough patch.
“We can’t say it is not the recession. I don’t like to use this term, but we have gone dark in the market. The BTA has no money and we need to keep it ticking if we are to get through. Because of all the extra competition, a lot of our competitors are doing deals, but we have not been able to,” said the past president.
The accountant noted that when extra money had been voted to the BTA in the Budget last year, the agency went to work in the key areas of the UK and local tourism saw an almost immediate impact. Something similar, he argued, was needed now, especially as it seemed that “everything on pause”.
He said too that now was the time to call on NGOs and other such bodies to help pick up the slack, so some of the money now dedicated to social agencies and areas can be otherwise utilised to bring the island’s main foreign exchange earner back to life.
latoyaburnham@barbadostoday. bb; email@example.com