Barbados Labour Party (BLP) candidate for St Michael West Central Ian Gooding-Edghill has launched an attack on Minister of Tourism Richard Sealy, accusing the minister of making exaggerated claims of growth in the industry.
Gooding-Edghill issued a statement this week in which he said the claims should not be allowed to go unchallenged otherwise they “would lead Barbadians to a false sense of satisfaction” with the sector.
During a media conference at the Lloyd Erskine Sandiford Centre on February 1, Sealy reported a stellar performance in 2015 with long-stay arrivals up by 13.7 per cent to a record 591,892 tourists. He attributed the turnaround in the sector to a combination of factors, including the diversification of source markets and increased airlift.
However, Gooding-Edghill accused the minister of engaging in a “publicity stunt” and delivering “superficial” content that did not reveal the true state of the tourism industry.
“Many people have been left to conclude that Minister Sealy had indulged in a publicity stunt that contained superficial form rather than accurate, relevant and substantive content, and which therefore did not paint a true picture of tourism,” said Gooding-Edghill
The former BLP Senator said far from a stellar performance last year, there was evidence of an underperforming tourism sector, when compared with the BLP’s final year in office.
He cited Central Bank figures to support his claim, stating that the $1.953 billion which the bank reported that the country earned from tourism last year was a far cry from the $2.382 billion recorded in 2007 under the BLP administration.
“In other words, eight years ago the country was earning $428 million more in tourism revenue than it is earning today,” said Gooding-Edghill, adding that the story was the same for the foreign reserves which were heavily dependent on tourism revenues.
“But there is further evidence of the underperformance of tourism where the question of airlift is concerned,” said Gooding-Edghill.
“It must also be seen against the fact that the Government has reported . . . a 13 per cent rise in airlift, which, by the tourism minister’s own admission, is costing taxpayers between $18 million and $33 million annually to get airlines to fly into Barbados.”
The Opposition politician said the increase in airlift was questionable because “it is credited to the significant boost in air-to-sea transfer passengers who in reality contribute very little to Barbados’ tourism earnings when compared to people who actually stay on the island”.
He contended that Sealy was trying to “overwhelm” Barbadians with “over-glorified accounts” of tourism and called for “meaningful action” to return Barbados’ tourism to a sustainable growth path “with significant earnings, and allow participants to enjoy their fair share of its success.
“Such a path would certainly ignite growth in other sectors and return our overall economic growth rate to the higher standard of at least three per cent earned by a disciplined BLP administration, and not endure attempts to make us settle for zero or anaemic 0.5 per cent growth we have been experiencing over the last several years under the DLP. We can and must do better than that,” he charged.