Minister of Tourism Richard Sealy has blamed the Barbados Labour Party for all the challenges now faced by the tourism sector.
Sealy, addressing Parliament last night charged that it was the lack of foresight of the then ruling Owen Arthur Administration that left tourism in a state of tiredness, particularly with relation to rooms and rooming stock.
“The truth is once again, had the last Administration had a little more foresight in building our room stock out, in terms of identifying what was happening in terms of the shift from hotel rooms to villas. If we had done more planning during those years, we would be in a better position to see more growth in tourism.
“We inherited a lot of hotel plant that was tired, attractions that needed to be spruced up; we attracted a situation where our product needed more attention and it is those circumstances, not only did we have to ensure we market effectively in the face of tremendous global challenges, but that we restructured our arrangements so that we could have continued benefit from tourism, and so that next time a recession comes along we would make sure we are more robust and capable of withstanding it then.
“We should not have to be doing that during this period. Everyone understands that you don’t gather grain during the winter, you gather grain during the summer and store it for when winter comes along. The problem was that there was no sort of thinking at all that down the road there would be a potential recession.”
The St. Michael South Central MP said the Democratic Labour Party was forward thinking, which was why there was a human resource development strategy and a plan for the sugar industry, the ageing, as well as medium term fiscal and development strategies to name a few initiatives. He noted that the need to planning was why tourism too would have its own master plan in a matter of weeks.
“You have to prepare for the rainy day … and that is why we are into new markets as well because one of the problems that caused this decline, and this is a fundamental point, our overreliance on the United Kingdom. None of the other countries in the region depend as heavily on the UK as we do.
“Grenada to a lesser extend and Antigua gets a few, but we rely heavily on that UK market and so that overemphasis on the UK market has actually hurt us in this time. That is why we are going into continental Europe and getting some good arrivals,” he pointed out.
While the Opposition Leader had criticised him for expanding into Dallas and then the cessation of that route, he challenged the St. Michael North East MP to congratulate him for starting the routes into the Midwestern US in the first instance, and noted: “It is not my fault that American Airlines went under Chapter 11. But we are hoping now that we can reengage them and look at some of those other gateways.
“But it was this Democratic Labour Party Government that brought that new flight here, brought that additional flights from New York, JetBlue and I can talk about that, more capacity; we brought the additional flight from Toronto; we opened the Brazil market because I am not thinking about myself.
“I am thinking about two or three tourism ministers down the road. That is what this Democratic Labour Party is about. We are thinking on this side. You have to think about the future and what we do is hold it in trust.”
This, he said, was why he was pushing the tourism master plan because it was about the future and ensuring the sector was put on firm footing and “not the wobbly footing I inherited in 2008”.
“You will hear about the decline in numbers and I found it very interesting that the member for St. Michael North East decided to take a leaf out of the book for the Member for St. Michael North, who has been removed as the Shadow Minister of Tourism for all of his wonderful work … but you can’t only look at arrivals. Jamaica has seen increase in arrivals, Jamaica is in the hands of the IMF. If you are getting arrivals, who are you getting, what are they spending?
“The real challenge we have been getting again with this UK market is the decline in spending capacity of our visitors, but we don’t throw up our hands, we work hard to try to get more people to come to Barbados…,” he noted.
“The fundamental point is if they are not spending, what are you going to do. We are still working in the face of these horrible circumstances. The source markets, we have no control over the economic conditions there but we continue to throw our hands up. We will continue to work on all the different areas. The tourism vote has been increased and I am not sure why the impression was given that it has been decreased.”
Linkages with sectors like culture, he told the House, were working with the incorporation of the Historic Bridgetown and its Garrisons UNESCO designation; as well as agencies like the BTI, had projects to bring on stream to help the sector as well. (LB)