Dr Kerry Hall, former schoolmate and Chief Excutive Officer of the Barbados Tourism Product Authority, on a call-in programme recently, pointed out three important ingredients of the tourism industry of any country. Friendliness of the people, cleanliness of the place and a generally safe and secure environment (peace and security).
Dr Hall is certainly making waves in the tourism industry and has the dynamism and passion necessary to bring a fresher outlook and a more practical approach to the tourism product of Barbados.
Having interacted with her over the last few months, I recognized her knowledge of the industry and her keen ability to sense and understand new and emerging trends in market. The initiative to include small businesses in the service industry and to expose them to the tourist market is highly commendable.
Having heard her on that call-in programme speaking about those three important components of any tourist destination, I believe it is critical for Barbados, as a country whose almost sole reliance is on tourism, to have a deep and hard look at what has been happening here within the context of these three vital ingredients.
The importance of examining these three areas is underscored by the fact that the profile of our tourists is ever-changing; the internet, especially social-media, has made information (positive and negative) immediately available and no longer can we expect to ready-make a package which isolates the tourist into only what we would want them to see or do.
As to the first ingredient, friendliness of the people, where are Barbadians today on this characteristic as compared to 20 years ago? We know that Barbados has been ranked among the top destinations that offered friendly and hospitable environments.
The value of the tourist was ingrained in our psyche and thus ensured that we treated our guests with respect and afforded them a welcome that would leave lasting, pleasant impressions. I dare say that this was not only the character of the Barbadian to tourists, it was the character of the Barbadian to each other.
If we lose that quality of being friendly, kind and hospitable to our very own, how do we expect to extend that to others? In 2004, the National Initiative for Service Excellence (NISE) came into being with the stated goalsof creating a national culture of Service Excellence, helping Barbados become known worldwide for Service Excellence and motivating and providing the tools for all Barbadians to become involved in the achievement of Service Excellence.
NISE has over the years made outstanding efforts in seeking to achieve these goals and several businesses, institutions and organizations have benefitted from their workshops and activities. But how far has this permeated our society to be ever so conscious of how we treat others?
There are pleasant experiences and negative experiences. As in most things in life, negative experiences get more traction and this is what impacts on those hoping to visit Barbados and are searching for referrals.
From our first ports of entry, Immigration and Customs to the people with whom tourists interface, that friendliness must be there to ensure this vital aspect of our tourism product is maintained. This friendliness is not something that one can put on and take off like a uniform.
It has to come from within. It has to be part of the one’s personality and character. If our work environment, our economic situation and social surroundings are impacting on us negatively and creating levels of stress, then our ability to be friendly and cheerful with others will be seriously impacted.
It is noteworthy that in the “Happy Planet Index” of 2016, Barbados wasn’t listed, probably because it wasn’t included in the survey, but Jamaica scored highly, coming in at number 11 out of 140 countries around the world while Trinidad scored poorly, placing at 130.
As to the second component, cleanliness of the place, one caller to the same call-in programme castigated the situation Barbados finds itself in today with garbage. The caller lamented the pile-up of garbage in many areas of Barbados and the extreme delays in getting this garbage removed. She rightfully pointed out that tourists don’t necessarily stick to the beaten path and so even if garbage is removed from the so called “high trafficked” areas, tourists will still witness the unsightly accumulation of garbage in several neighborhoods across Barbados.
In tandem with the infrequent collection of garbage is the indiscriminate disposal of garbage. The attitude which persists that it is not my job or concern to keep Barbados clean, is causing our beautiful island to look nasty. Many have expressed dismay and frustration at seeing empty plastic containers flung from cars, public service vehicles and pedestrians.
The clean-up at beaches often yields an array of garbage that makes one wonder what some people really are thinking by the way they treat our lovely God-given natural environment. Lack of cleanliness leads to the potential to create serious health challenges. The water woes in many parishes don’t help either. If cleanliness of the place is a key component of our tourism industry, then we seriously need to address this issue.
As to peace and security, the Royal Barbados Police Force must be commended for years of service to Barbados, especially as it relates to the tourism industry. They have shown their ability and capability to respond and solve in most cases criminal activity. Recent trends of increasing gun violence are widely circulated and will impact as well on tourists looking for a safe destination. Whether this gun-play is directly related to the tourists or not, it will certainly factor into any decision-making by someone wanting to come here.
Barbados last week hosted the State of the Industry Conference for Caribbean tourism practitioners, policy makers, strategic partners from the public and private sectors, and travel professionals. The Minister of Tourism, Richard Sealy, pointed out at the conference that visitor arrivals in the Caribbean are set to exceed 30 million for 2016. He said that commendations were in order for this fact as the industry was very challenging and highly competitive.
Ignoring the realities on the ground in Barbados, however, can be self-defeating. Increasing our room stock and working to attract more visitors are all good but if, as a nation, we can’t get these vital aspects of our tourism product sorted, then the impressions we hope to leave with our visitors will not be pleasant ones.
(Suleiman Bulbulia is a Justice of the Peace, Secretary of the Barbados Muslim Association and Muslim Chaplain at the Cave Hill Campus, UWI. Emailsuleimanbulbulia@hotmail.com)