Being the head of, or spokesman for, a representative body is never easy.
It is one of those “damn if you do, damn if you don’t” positions, where what you state is bound to please some and make others unhappy. This goes whether those doing the talking are in government, the private sector or non-governmental sector of the society.
But what happens when the people who are speaking out are representing similar constituencies of individuals, even if they differ in size? And is the solution to point fingers at the person on the other side, saying they are wrong and your position is the only one worthy of merit?
All of this comes to mind when we listen to and observe what appears to be a sense of discord between Government and the Barbados Hotel and Tourism Association.
The latest episode, which appears to have brought these apparent tensions to the fore is statements made at the BHTA’s recent annual general meeting, held at the Lloyd Erskine Sandiford Centre. At that event, which featured a speech by Leader of the Opposition Mia Mottley, BHTA president patricia Affonso-Dass pointed to recent tourism statistics, specifically long stay visitor arrivals, which suggested the tourism sector in Barbados was on a downward spiral.
Noting at the time that tourism arrivals had decreased by about 6.9 per cent when compared to last year, she added: “And in 2012, far from attaining the magical figure of 600,000 long-stay visitors, we only managed to reach 537,640 visitors, down from 572,065 in 2011.”
BHTA Executive Vice president, Sue Springer, also listed her own concerns, including reduced airlift, decreased spending by visitors, and high operational costs.
As if on cue, then came Government Senator Reginald Hunte, who while speaking in the Upper House implied that the BHTA was a bunch of complainers, who were not doing much to help themselves. And now he has been followed by parliamentary Secretary in the Ministry of Tourism and International Transport, Senator Irene Sandiford-Garner, whose own words suggest the hoteliers and others in their grouping were being ungrateful.
Neither the BHTA nor Government is perfect and both deserve criticism where warranted. The two, as representatives of people, also have the right to speak out when they feel they are being misrepresented or wrongly blamed, or when they feel the need to show true representation.
Seemingly trying to crucify each other in public, however, solves nothing, especially when the sector they are both rooting for has been on the decline for some time. In this instance, both BHTA and Government are right, and in a sense both are wrong.
The BHTA is right that tourism has declined, and no amount of excuses by members of the current administration will change that. All they have to do is consult the Barbados Statistical Service and such agencies to get the proof. But we do feel that rather than simply pointing out problems, this key tourism interest group needs to advance more solutions.
Government also needs to be stop being so defensive whenever someone is critical of an aspect of their stewardship, and be more open to alternative views.
Right now it seems that the two are strenuously pulling on the same rope — in opposite directions — while incredulously hoping to reach the same goal, a more vibrant and sustainable tourism sector. And unfortunately that is a strategy which guarantees defeat.