As the world spins on its axis, there is little to suggest that there is an immediate change to the challenges facing nations brought on by the current financial and economic crisis.
Unemployment figures continue to soar as businesses close their doors. Countries like Barbados who depend heavily on tourism are experiencing a rapid decline in new arrivals. The consequential dip in the tourist spend has also become rather apparent.
Despite these developments, there is evidence of the expansion of the tourist plants in Barbados, as new hotels, condominiums and villas are under construction.
It would appear that with the ever increasing competition for the tourist dollars, small island states like Barbados have to enhance their product offerings if they are to attract high and low end tourists, short and long stay visitors. It is now imperative that the country begins to seriously look at what it has to do if it is to maintain a competitive edge.
A good starting point would be to ensure that it does not price itself out of the market. It cannot be wise to kill the goose that lays the golden egg. It is understandable that hoteliers and restaurant proprietors all have to cover their overheads.
As a consequence, it is anticipated that their pricing structure would be directed at achieving this end, while at the same time fashioned in such a way that a profit is realised. Suffice to say, it is here the problem starts.
There is a heavy price which hoteliers and restaurant proprietors are paying for their misgiving. Food and beverage is a major component of the visitor’s spend, on which they all would wish to cash in. It would seem that good business is being lost to the many entrepreneurs who have established food and beverage operations all around Barbados.
Hot spots like Oistins and Moon Town, for example, are two of those. Where ever these operations are established, they attract visitors and locals simply because the price is right. To add to this, the service is personal, and moreover, there is no VAT or service charge that is payable. This may, to all intents and purposes, be a positive development, for it means that there are satisfied customers. They may argue that they have greater purchasing power, and also get value for their money. The experience of our visitors should always be a fulfilling one.
It would seem that these entrepreneurs, who take to offering local cuisine, understand what it takes to attract and maintain business.
What is it that they are doing right that the mainstream hotels are not? The answer may be a debatable one but one thing is for sure, it would seem that entrepreneurs in the business are finding new approaches to make their operations successful. In simple language they are catering to the needs of visitors and locals alike.
If it were possible for many of the folk of yesteryear to return, they would certainly roll over a die again if they were told that they were now free to go to a hotel and have a staycation. Progressive as it may seem, it cannot be ruled out that this may be considered as a proverbial case of missing the boat.
This innovation is directed to reach out to locals, and comes at a time when visitor numbers have fallen off.
The idea is lofty but there is much work to be done to reach out to locals, who might see themselves as substitutes for the loss of the dominant foreign tourists. Mind you, in our past, for the average Barbadian to be able to frequent a hotel, was like trying to get a peep into the grounds of Government House.
It is gratifying that in this dark hour of the tourism industry, the value of promoting regional tourism and opening the doors of the hotel plants to locals is now recognised. There is a need to build on this. It would be quite unfortunate if at the first sign that things are returning to a sense of normalcy, that there is the abandonment in promoting the concept of regional and local tourism.
If this happens, it goes without saying that we would be throwing out the baby with the bath water.
Given the prevailing circumstances, the sector needs to carefully examine how it can maintain its competitiveness and preserve and create new job opportunities. This process starts with a creating a new vision to make Barbados the preferred destination of choice. A reasonable start is to recognise that the island must offer more than just sun, sea and sand.
The establishment of new tourists attractions and a reduction in the accommodation, food and beverage costs to our visitors are most desired. It seems outrageous that a local beer in a hotel can cost between $8 and $10, when outside in the community, three beers can be had for the same $10.
The retail outlets that offer goods and services to tourists must also clean up their act. Tourists are sensible people and so it is unlikely that they will come to these shores and pay twice the price for an item, simply because it is sold under the label of a duty free.
Those taxi drivers who complain about losing business, should think again about the folly of their actions in charging their customers for air conditioning. It would seem that the smart tourist has resorted to the comfort of public bus transportation, where the price is right and there is no additional cost for the natural air.
What is put in place as a rescue plan today, will certainly dictate what happens to the sector after the current economic crisis has passed. All the players in this sector need to wake up and smell the coffee.
* Dennis De Peiza is Labour Management Consultant with Regional Management Services Inc.
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