Much of Barbados’ economic turnaround is pinned on what we all commonly love to call our bread and butter industry. So it’s little wonder that our flagging fortunes of late have been accompanied by a flat tourism performance.
Tomorrow, Barbados will join its regional neighbours in the start of celebrations for Caribbean Tourism Month, under the theme One Sea, One Voice, One Caribbean. And we take note that it comes just as head of the new Barbados Tourism Marketing Inc. (BTMI), William “Billy” Griffith, has signalled it won’t be business as usual for the new agency mandated to keep our island on the “cutting edge of an ever-changing and competitive global industry”.
Said Mr Griffith: “We will not be paralyzed with inertia,” as he challenged his new team to be dynamic, decisive and responsive.
With anticipation we await his stamp on the sector, but hasten to caution that nothing short of strong action is required to get the job done; mere eloquent statements won’t suffice.
Certainly, Mr Griffith’s arrival comes as several indicators point to a sector that is poised to rebound. For one, the Government has finally delivered promised concessions to hoteliers equal to those handed to Jamaican hotel magnate Gordon “Butch” Stewart. And then one could not help but feel some optimism this week after Minister of Tourism Richard Sealy boasted that major investments were on the way as he addressed Parliament.
Apart from the boom expected from the opening of Sandals Barbados in January next year, Mr Sealy revealed that Sandal Beaches was on track for the third quarter. Added to these is the construction of a new high-rise Hyatt Hotel in the first quarter of 2015 and the reconstruction of the dilapidated Sam’s Lord Castle in the middle of next year.
Good news indeed as we wait with bated breath for the promised Four Seasons project to get off the ground.
These international brands and other improvements by local hoteliers are desperately needed to remedy our current slump. But are we ready to maximize the influx of business we desperately hope they will bring? This projected expansion must be buttressed by a well thought out, innovative and sustainable plan that will deliver more benefits in the long run than challenges.
Given that the global pattern of travel is changing, a tourism-dependent country like Barbados will have to redefine its product and take its message beyond the far ends of the globe –– not just the usual markets of the United States, Britain and Canada. Tourists are demanding high-quality products and value for their money; thus there is a clear need to diversify our offerings to attract high-spending clientele and travellers seeking authentic cultural experiences in an unspoilt environment.
So it’s the charge of the BTMI to get its message right. And by that we don’t mean the perfect images of white sandy beaches, ever-smiling locals decked in colourful prints, and tempting cuisine decorated on a white plate neatly packaged in a 30-second television ad; a well laid out brochure with picture-perfect scenes; or the voice of a North American inviting you to paradise with the delightful sounds of the steel pan in a radio ad.
Rather, we want to see the agency undertaking bold moves to make the island No. 1 by developing a well trained, service-oriented workforce, a sound marketing plan that enlists the power of social media, the upgrade and development of new attractions, the building of working partnerships with relevant stakeholders, the education of ordinary Barbadians who need to be reminded that tourism is indeed their business, and most of all the sustainable use of our environment to protect these shores for citizens and visitors alike to enjoy for years to come.