Local hoteliers have hit back at the Barbados Agricultural Society. Yesterday, BAS chief executive officer James Paul told the Freundel Stuart administration not to give the hotel sector the tax concessions on food and beverage, only because Sandals has been given them. Paul fears that once the hotel operators receive the relief, they would still import produce that could be adequately sourced from local farmers.
But today, Barbados Hotel & Tourism Association executive vice-president Sue Springer told a news conference at the Island Inn in Acquatic Gap, St Michael, that Paul had got it wrong.
“Regarding the food and beverage concessions, any of you who have known me for a long time, know that when I was president, and that was 12 years ago, that I was asking for assistance in bound rates, and more recently in the last six years, I have been even more aggressive about it,” Springer declared. “We have also, over that period of time, been trying to work with the agricultural sector in this country, and there have been repeated situations, where we have tried to have local produce used.
“Our chefs prefer to use local produce, because, with all due respect, some of the imported produce that comes in, is probably already about two weeks old before it gets to us. So the shelf life and the profitability out of what we are buying for food is not what it would be, if it is fresh,” the hotel leader argued.
“We need,” she added,”to make it very clear that because we are asking for the same duty-free concessions on food, especially, it does not mean that we are going to sidetrack, or not use the local vendors and the local farmers. In fact, we would like to see even more ways in which we can work with them closer; and that has always been our message.”
The BAS boss had also claimed that for years his agency had been trying, unsuccessfully, to work with the hoteliers with a view to getting them to buy more local produce. But Springer said the BHTA had been requesting a reduction in bound rates on produce not produced in Barbados. “But our chefs use them and our people that are visiting are looking for them as an international standard. We have amazing chefs that take those produce and then put a local twist on it. So you have a fusion of local, with foreign produce that is amazing, and we have just seen all of that demonstrated at our recent Food & Wine And Rum Festival.” She said that Barbados was known as an epicurean centre in the Caribbean, so it was natural to have these things.
“So in no way are we trying to compromise the farmers or any of the agricultural initiatives that are going on.”
Referring to this country’s award-winning culinary team, president of the BHTA, Patricia Affonso Daas, said the use of local produce was an ongoing issue.
“But we are an international destination, and we do market ourselves as the culinary capital of the Caribbean, and we, therefore, also have to ensure that the product that we are putting out there is competively priced and the people consider it great value.
“That’s really the basis on which we have consistently discussed the issue of bound rates; not because we do not wish to use what is locally available, but for those items that are not locally available, when you are looking at some bound rates in the vacinity of 180 per cent, it takes items that would otherwise be
expected on menus, and put them in a price that the customer does not feel they are receiving value,” Affonso-Daas noted. She reasoned that the best way to grow a business was to create the perception that the customer would get great value.