The decision by Britons to leave the European Union “caught us with our pants down”, exacerbating the many problems that faced the tourism industry here, says the island’s most senior private sector tourism official.
The United Kingdom is Barbados’ primary tourism market and many within and outside the industry have expressed concern about the possible impact on last June’s Brexit vote on the industry here, including the effect of the falling value of the pound.
However, Chairperson of the Barbados Hotel and Tourism Association (BHTA) Roseanne Myers today said many of the challenges that confront the industry today existed long before Brexit and were simply amplified after the vote.
“If Brexit were to go away tomorrow and we were to look at what were the challenges that were facing the industry and the Barbados economy, the truth is, Brexit only made the problems that we had and continue to have, worse. Brexit came and caught us with out pants down,” Myers told a trade forum on Beyond The Border: A Practical Approach to Economic Sustainability at the Radisson Aquatica Resort.
Focusing her presentation on the Implication of Brexit on the Local Tourism Sector and BHTA Membership, the Atlantis Submarines general manager said Barbados had already been experiencing stiff competition from less expensive five star destinations such as Mauritius and the Maldives.
Devaluation of the sterling, she said, made it even costlier for British tourists to visit these shores.
In addition, she said there was an increase in the number of tourists opting to spend time with friends, while the luxury accommodation sector showed some decline due to price sensitivity and competition.
“I think that what we have seen, from talking directly to tour operators, is that the people we lost at the top at that repeat level of high net worth, they did not trade down and come to Barbados and stay at a different property at a different price in the winter, they actually stayed at the five diamond and five star level, but they went where their money could take them further . . . they basically chose another destination,” Myers explained.
The BHTA head pointed to other challenges, including a change in the spending habits of the visitors, who are cutting back on tours and attractions.
She added that while the sector had been made to wait for an inordinate length of time for Value Added Tax refunds, many of the promised incentives from Government had not materialized.
“These are not problems that were created post Brexit, they were there before. We took too long to deal with them, even though we recognized there were problems. Brexit came and caught us with our pants down so we are out there now trying for the trickle down to happen,” Myers emphasized.
However, the top tourism official made it clear the sector had not reached panic levels and there was “no doom and gloom”.
“We must remain positive and we must remain focused,” she said, while adding that it was critical that the authorities remain proactive and nimble in monitoring and quickly tackling challenges, diversify the offerings, strengthening and protecting the local brand, pre-selling value added options, and confronting the economic challenges.