My fellow Barbadians, if we never learn to walk and chew gum, we will always be taken for a ride by the political directorate of our fair land –– whether that directorate comes from one of the two established political parties or a new entrant to the landscape.
Unless we become critical consumers of information, we shall continue to miss the fundamental points and fete and nine day wonder politics will be used to manipulate the electorate.
This strategy has worked well for the current Democratic Labour Party regime and in this the final full year before an election is constitutionally due, there seems no letup in sight.
The Prime Minister recently used the forum of his fete to thank repeat visitors to the island, to admonish Barbadians for their response to the pothole crisis and other social concerns. A quote attributed to the Prime Minister had him thanking tourists for continuing to choose Barbados and for not pretending that their own countries did not have potholes and other social concerns.
I was alarmed as any other person that the leader of our island chose to be so callous in his response about the state of our road infrastructure. However, his comments about potholes were by far not the takeaway of his comments at his fete.
The Prime Minister offered some commentary on the visitor arrival figures for the island. In 2015, Barbados welcomed 592,000 long stay tourists to the island. In 2016, we welcomed 610,000. The Prime Minister encouraged tourism stakeholders present to aim to reach the 650,000 mark for 2017.
The numbers for long stay arrivals to Barbados confounded me, coming on the heels of the Governor of the Central Bank’s concern about low foreign exchange. In the last two years, Barbados has welcomed 1,202,000 tourists to its shores. Notwithstanding, our foreign reserve levels are so low that the business sector has indicated that they have challenges being issued with currency for transactions.
A few conclusions can be drawn from this state of affairs. From a purely tourism standpoint, we are obviously not realizing the maximum spend for the number of visitors we are welcoming. This has to do with the products we develop for tourists to purchase once they are on the island.
What attractions and experiences are we developing to ensure that tourists have activities they will want to spend on? Additionally, what arts, crafts and other items is our business sector producing to encourage tourists to buy?
If we only have a product based on tourists coming to Barbados and paying for a hotel room in which meals are included, we are not doing our most to ensure that we get maximum spend for the numbers of tourists visiting the island.
Moreover, if the only product that we offer tourists are things which we import to offer them, then Barbados becomes merely a place where foreign exchange is collected from tourists to be sent back overseas by merchants for goods bought. This does not leave Barbados in a beneficial position from the foreign exchange collected.
Another tourism-related conclusion could see us asking the question, how is a tourist defined and measured in Barbados? In other words, of the more than one million people who visited us in the last two years, exactly who was counted and why?
I saw some data a few months ago and it seemed from just a cursory look that the tourist arrivals from the regional category were up substantially. In trying to find explanations for the trend, it appeared as though crew members from LIAT who enter the island to transfer planes were being counted among tourist arrivals.
Since a crew could enter and leave the island several times in one week, it was causing an upswing in the regional arrival numbers. What would be the benefit of counting a LIAT crew member in the overall tourism arrivals for Barbados?
Are there any other practices which could inflate our tourist arrival numbers? These are reasonable questions to ask in the context of the seeming disparity between tourist numbers and the bounty in our national coffers.
From an economic point of view, let us for argument sake say that over a million tourists came and spent the maximum amount of money one would expect. Could it be that the money is not making its way to the national coffers? This is again a seemingly legitimate question.
The Minister of Finance, in his last Budget report, introduced the concept of expanded duty free shopping for Barbadian locals. His reason was in part to try to capture foreign exchange not currently making its way into the economy.
This seems to be some acknowledgement by the Minister of Finance that there are gaps in the foreign exchange collection methods in Barbados. What he may have overlooked is that people keeping foreign exchange out of the economy may be doing so deliberately.
It is not uncommon to find people hoarding foreign exchange in climates where they have no confidence in the government. Further, if businesses are having difficulties accessing foreign exchange when they need it, it would not be surprising if they start to hold foreign exchange when it comes and even trade it among themselves outside of the established financial mechanism.
The information leading to all these queries was embedded in the same article where the Prime Minister told us that pot holes were a mere inconvenience of life. While I am happy that we have now been able to get some government action on the road network, I am saddened that more people did not pick up on the tourist numbers and the Governor’s statement about foreign exchange.
If we continue to consume only the peripheral political issues, our government will continue to give us peripheral responses.
The Minister of Transport and Works has been in the media commenting on his Ministry’s plan to patch the road network. In the furore, the Minister of Finance is completely mum both on the amount of foreign exchange in the Central Bank and the connection with visitor numbers for the last two years.
(Marsha Hinds Layne is a full time mummy and part time lecturer in communications at the University of the West Indies. Email:firstname.lastname@example.org)