Barbados’ tourism is regaining its top international ranking, says Minister of Tourism Richard Sealy.
Responding to an Opposition Barbados Labour Party motion of no confidence against the Freundel Stuart Government, he reported on recent ratings received from tourism review agencies.
“Expedia, the leading online tour operator, voted Barbados the best Caribbean destination for 2016. Caribbean Journal, one of the more prestigious online publications, also voted Barbados the best destination. Trip advisor had us at third,” he said.
“The [UK] Telegraph, doing their annual survey, they also had Barbados rated. And Routes America had Barbados finalized as one of the better destinations in the Western Hemisphere.”
He credited this current ranking to a “shift on the whole axis of how tourism operates” in Barbados.
“We shifted the whole basis by concessions we offered to the sector. We treated the sector as an export industry, where in essence we saw that all of the imposts from the imports were removed,” he said.
“Our work is being recognized [because] we understood that we had to do some serious restructuring of the tourism industry.”
Responding to accusations by BLP Member of Parliament Ronald Toppin that Sandals has been receiving special treatment in the industry, Sealy conceded, “Sandals was treated differently, that is true, but that is not new”.
Toppin had also repeated a call for the Memorandum of Understanding between Sandals and the Government to be made public, but the minister said: “We came in four or five days after we agreed to the Sandals investment and laid a parliamentary statement”.
He said that laying the paper was against the wishes of officials of the Ministry of Finance.
“The Ministry of Finance has always held that power of issuing concessions close to their chest . . . . They assess the contribution, or the potential contribution of the project, and then they accord concessions to suit,” Sealy said.
“But we felt that because of what we were doing and because of the vision we had for the sector, that we should issue a parliamentary statement. That never happened [before],” he added.
Sealy argued, however, that Sandals was not the only tourism operator receiving Government benefits. He said close to 40 hotels had used these provisions to undertake refurbishment of their properties.
“To try to suggest that there is some unique, peculiar set of concessions [for Sandals] is not true. They got what they got on the basis of the level of investment, the level of employment, economic activity that will be generated, the benefits of having a strong brand and what it can do for the destination. All those factors were done.”