As expected, tourism is taking centre stage during this current Budget debate and as usual, there are differences of opinion as to how to calculate the success or failure of our industry.
When these arguments are over, I believe that we will all agree that tourism is critical to our economy and to us as a society.
I want to once again voice my opinion that we should not wait until there is a crisis for tourism to become our focus. I have felt for a very long time that this industry is far too important to attract our attention only during difficult times.
I too welcome the adjustments announced during this Budget. However, there are things I remain concern about in relation to our industry. We continue to be compared to some of the other Caribbean countries, especially the non-English-speaking countries, as being high-price. The question is: Can we do more to improved our competitiveness? I believe that we can.
One of the biggest costs to maintaining a tourism plant is the access to capital, where are the banks on this issue? Where are we in relation to the growth of the Tourism Fund? Can use of this fund attract cheaper capital for the industry?
Are we doing succession planning and mentoring programmes for students in tourism? Is there room for us as an industry to play a more active role in tourism education? Can this approach be used to reduce the length of time that a student has to spend in obtaining a university degree?
Has the time come to review the addition of the automatic service charge to customer bills and look more at pay for productivity as an additional way of improving our competitiveness? I know that this is a touchy subject, but in an environment where growth and competitiveness are the keys, can we afford to leave anything off the table?
Everyone speaks of reforming the Barbados economy, but if we were to truly reform, would we not need to have some sort of reform within the engines that drive the economy as well?
Another thing that we have been asking about for years but have had very little movement on is the support services — things like child care and transportation hours in Barbados. There is a school of thought that absenteeism is influenced because not only are people sick, but often because there is no one to care for their children and in the absence of extended care, parents have no choice. If there is improvement in our support services, would this help our productivity, and by extension our competitiveness?
I know that some of these subjects are quite touchy, but during difficult time should we not look at everything?
* Tourism is our business, let us play our part.