An impassioned chairperson of the Barbados Hotel and Tourism Association (BHTA) Roseanne Myers is crying shame on local authorities for running away from “vexing issues” facing the country instead of simply “taking them by the horn” and strategically correcting them while effectively communicating with the public.
Delivering her final report for the year at the BHTA’s fourth quarterly meeting at the Lloyd Erskine Sandiford Centre today, Myers did not hold back her feelings on the way the south coast sewage problem was being handled.
Myers said while it was good to reflect on the achievements over the past 50 years “long talk will not get us through the next 50”.
She said there was need to address an aging and deteriorating infrastructure, including “our roads, the drainage system, the sewerage system, our water supply systems, and our airport” all of which seemed to be “nearing the brink of their maximum carrying capacity”.
“These are issues requiring strategic medium and long-term responses,” Myers advised.
She said the recent heavy rains had thrown the island into “a tail spin” and it was now trying to recover its balance and reputation, adding that businesses and households remained in the dark as to the protocols to follow in the event of similar occurrences.
“The truth is, what would be worse than what has happened over the past month is that we should have another downpour any time soon and suffer a repeat of the same challenges. We still have no clarity on what we collectively need to do before, during and after such events. We have shot ourselves in one foot with the infrastructural challenges, and truthfully, we have shot ourselves in the other foot with the somewhat slow response and communication of what was being done to address the fallout and to communicate with one voice about what a confluence of circumstances, not only water, has caused and brought upon us. Whatever the fixes identified we must implement a plan that we all clearly understand and can participate in.”
The tourism executive said the time had long gone for pointing fingers, and the relevant officials and agencies needed to accept full responsibility “and do something about it”.
“Things usually get worse unless you interject and intervene with some positive and strategic responses,” Myers warned.
“Our biggest challenge though seems to be one of communication as an underlying constant. Agencies are not communicating effectively to solve issues and we are not communicating with our various publics when problems occur, but tend to want to ignore and deny before addressing the concerns frontally,” she said.
“We had issues with drainage and backed up systems that affected the sewerage system, which was already stressed. Rather than acknowledge and take control of the messaging we allowed the general public to tell their stories on social media in an uncontrolled way with little leadership that was required to investigate, address, apologize, warn and manage the possible resolution. And we waited until the damage was done to our good name, then to try to respond. We have to do better and I surely believe that we can do better,” she added.
She also had strong words on the ongoing labour dispute between the Grantley Adams International Airport and the National Union of Public Workers, saying it seemed people were putting ego before country.
“There are issues that bother you to the point that you can’t sleep. You can’t sleep because a lot of what you are trying to do is being made to waste because of egos and because of all other things except a patriotic approach to problem solving. Country first, everything and everyone else after,” she said to applause.
The tourism executive added that the country could not afford to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars in marketing each year only to fail to give visitors the promised experience from the moment they land at the airport.
“So is it not a shame that we allow the issues already discussed and the unacceptable situation at the airport to replace the warm welcome we boast of, isn’t that a shame? We spend all of the money allocated for marketing and then the first opportunity we have to deliver on the promise we keep getting it wrong. Isn’t that a shame?”
As such, a stern-talking Myers appealed to Government and the labour unions to return to the negotiation table “with a sense of urgency and conviction” to bring the impasse affecting the efficient operation of the airport to a close.