Barbados minus a vibrant tourism sector equals economic heartache.
That is no exaggeration, as the past four years of hard times, inclusive of depressed earnings from the island’s main sector, have shown.
If that was not bad enough those in the sector and the populace generally received an unwelcomed dose of reality this past week.
First came the Barbados Hotel and Tourism Association third quarterly meeting last Wednesday at Hilton Barbados, where both current President Patricia Affonso-Dass and her predecessor Colin Jordan voiced concern about the expected performance of tourism, or lack thereof, in 2012.
Affonso-Dass told hoteliers and other BHTA members that projections suggested that the tourism decline initially thought to be 1.1 more than last year, could turn out to be a worrisome nine per cent.
The tourism executive also said over the last year the island had suffered a continual drop in tourism property occupancies, culminating with a 13 per cent decrease for the first three weeks of last month and an estimated 5.2 per cent overall up to this month.
One major concern about this performance was the fact that the main United Kingdom market declined by 17.9 per cent in August.
Jordan, who himself was in the hot seat for the past two years, said the offshoot of this could be more tourism lay-offs, an increased number of 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.
While there are some who might be tempted to accuse us of being prophets of gloom and doom chances are the dark cloud over tourism is likely to darken before sunshine returns.
And while we welcome Minister of Finance and Economic Affairs Chris Sinckler’s announcement last Friday that a second Tourism Industry Relief Fund would be offered by the current administration, we doubt such help will go far enough to ease the pain many in the industry are feeling.
Certainly a TIRF 2 aimed at assisting “hotels, restaurants and tourism-related businesses to navigate these difficult waters of increased energy prices” is a good thing in principle.
But what about those properties drowning in millions of dollars in debt, which in some cases has forced some long-standing hotel plants to put up for sale signs.
And how about others who make up the majority of the millions of dollars in bad loans, at least in monetary terms, that commercial banks are grappling with.
It is good that Prime Minister Freundel Stuart has agreed to meet with hotel stakeholders, including the BHTA, every six weeks, as it is only through such dialogue that those affected can clearly outline their challenges and needs, and the head of the country can determine if and how his administration can help.
It is true that much of the problems in tourism, including depressed source markets, challenging airlift, and tourists with less money to spend, are outside of government’s control, but given the central role tourism has as far as the island’s economic well being was concerned inaction is unacceptable. We therefore say a second round of relief as announced by Sinckler is good, but not enough.