During the 1970s to 1990s Barbados enjoyed a booming tourism industry. The promotion of sun, sea and sand, a stable political environment, a hospitable people and the strong exchange rate of the Barbados dollar to the United States dollar and the British currency made for a rosy picture. Apart from the social ills such as illegal drugs and prostitution, amongst others, there was seemingly no cause for alarm.
Almost suddenly, there has been a transformation. The exciting times, characterized by high tourist arrival numbers and a buoyant economy, have given way to the decline in arrivals, reduced visitor spend and a waning in business activities. This has contributed to a reduction in employment, as the rippling effect of tourism has impacted on a number of other sectors within the economy.
There is an ongoing search to find answers to what has led to this overall decline. There is room for much speculation, but the possibility is that it was taken for granted that the sweet life would last forever. It has repeatedly been said that Barbados is a high-priced destination. To the average visitor who has spending limitations, this cannot be the preferred destination of choice as far as repeat visits are concerned.
Whereas it is good to boast about attracting high numbers of repeat visitors, equally, there should be concern as to why large numbers of new visitors are not being attracted to the island. It is a reasonable expectation that after a while, many of those repeat visitors will find creative ways of managing their resources. This, of course, would inevitably reduce the level of spend.
There is a looming concern for the rising tide of unemployment and underemployment that have emerged from the downturn in the tourism and hospitality sector. We have a number of people who joined the informal sector, but who, for the most part, lack the initiative to develop and bring on stream a product, service or activity that is creative, attractive and sustainable. This is important if the tourists who come to the island are to be enticed into spending. Far from this being the case, most people seem comfortable to invest in the same line of activity.
Moving along from this apparent mindset, we come to the poor and inept service that is sometimes offered. It would seem that those who are guilty of this are not conscious of the power of word-of-mouth advertising. The tourists who have bad experiences are not dumb. It is almost inevitable that they not will remain silent about bad experiences.
Next we come to criminal activity against visitors. It is comforting news to hear from the police that crime is down, but the highly publicized acts of violent crimes against tourists don’t make it good for attracting new business.
For example, visitors now refrain from travelling with cash and instead resort to the use of credit cards. This practice, to all intents and purposes, limits the level of their transactions to mainly mainstream business enterprises. Those who suffer as a consequence of this are the vendors and others in the informal sectors that depend largely on cash business. These people are driven out of business, and slowly but surely join the ranks of the unemployed.
Taxi drivers who are stationed at the ports of entry, in and around Bridgetown, at hotels, restaurants, and at the various places of entertainment and recreation on the island are employed, but yet underemployed. Some muster a mere one fare a day.
If there is one thing that needs to be cleaned up is the sloppy dress of the taxi drivers at the Grantley Adams International Airport. It is nothing short of an eyesore. Some are not properly groomed. They often have their shirt tails flying, and are seen dragging a pair of slippers on their feet.
In and around Bridgetown daily, and at Oistins on Friday nights, they rush every individual they presume to be a tourist. The sad thing about it, it is extremely difficult to identify who is a taxi driver. Using the motto “Safety first”, who can blame the tourist who resorts to public transportation? The taxi drivers need to clean up their act if they are to remain productive members of the employment community in the tourism sector.
There is every reason to lament the fallout from the decline in our tourist arrivals. Leaving no stone unturned, there cannot be any harm in examining the extent to which those who work in the sector may be directly or indirectly contributing to the fall-off in the business, by way of not enhancing the visitor experience.
(Dennis De Peiza is a labour management consultant with Regional Management Services Inc. Visit the website www.regionalmanagement services.com. Send your comments to email@example.com)