For certainly more than a decade, Government and tourism stakeholders have been drumming into the heads of Barbadians that “tourism is our business; let’s play our part”. What some have always found interesting about this mantra is that it never really specified the part that Barbadians are supposed to play.
Left to the individual to figure out, the part could be a minor or major, direct or indirect, either on the inside as an active participant or on the outside as a spectator. It seems, however, that Barbadians interpreted the slogan as a call to get involved in contributing to the success of tourism as a valuable industry stakeholder.
Indeed, it can be said that public policy over the years has been preparing Barbadians for such a role by placing considerable emphasis on tourism and hospitality-related training. The Government of Barbados established one of the first hotel schools in the region to enable Barbadians to acquire key skills to assume key roles in tourism and become, so to speak, the drivers of the industry.
It seems, however, that some employers, by their hiring practices, are determined to keep Barbadians on the outside looking on as spectators. For some time now, persons have been complaining about a trend where employers have sought from time to time, without sufficiently justifiable reason, to bring in foreigners to fill tourism jobs which can easily be filled by Barbadians.
The trend was taken to a ludicrous level this past week when an advertisement appeared in the local Press, indicating the intention of an employer to recruit a bartender from outside the island because no suitable Barbadian had applied for the job.
The mere thought is not only laughable but also insulting because it makes a mockery of the huge investment in training Barbadians to meet the needs of the tourism industry.
Against this backdrop, senior hotel executive Alvin Jemmott, the chairman of the state-run Barbados Tourism Marketing Inc., considered it necessary, as he spoke at the launch of this year’s Food & Wine And Rum Festival on Wednesday night, to say that the vexing jobs issue was receiving attention. However, the persons who really should be speaking on this issue are the ministers responsible for tourism and immigration.
Barbadians, especially those eyeing jobs in tourism or already in and looking to move up the ladder, are naturally keen to hear what is the Government’s position on the importation of foreign workers to take jobs which Barbadians can fill. There is a need to set the record straight.
Barbados has been involved in the business of hosting visitors for more than 100 years. During this time, it has built up considerable know-how in all aspects of the industry to the extent that Barbados is considered a tourism leader. Because of the respect for Barbadian expertise, there are Barbadian professionals who serve as consultants helping destinations, mostly in this region, to build capacity for their success.
To ensure Barbadians are not being disadvantaged, especially at this time when jobs are relatively hard to come by, a clearly enunciated policy on employment in tourism is needed. It is Government’s responsibility to ensure that fair access to job opportunities is afforded Barbadians who are qualified, willing to work, and have the right work ethic. The Government needs to act for another compelling reason: safeguarding the identity of the Barbadian tourism product. When visitors come to these shores, they primarily come in search of an authentic Barbadian experience. A tourism industry that provides guests with an authentic Barbadian experience can only do so by involving Barbadians and being seen as such.
If qualified and competent Barbadians believe employers are deliberately attempting to deny them opportunities, it can have the effect of creating feelings of resentment and alienation, to the point where these Barbadians may start to see tourism as somebody else’s business and not their own. If it comes to this stage, it is the tourism industry and Barbados
which stand to lose most.
Employers need to be sensitive to these issues.