A well-respected regional tourism expert is describing as dumb, some of the crucial strategies being adopted by Barbadian and Caribbean tourism policymakers.
In a forthright address to Barbadian hoteliers this morning, Principal Partner in the Bedford Baker Group Vincent Vanderpool-Wallace pulled no punches as he accused regional governments of not understanding what tourism was really about.
In his no holds barred keynote speech to the annual general meeting of the Intimate Hotels of Barbados (IHB) at the Lloyd Erskine Sandiford Centre (LESC), Vanderpool-Wallace, a former Bahamian minister of tourism, accused Caribbean governments of measuring tourism in a way that made no sense.
“We all know that one of the dumbest things we do every single day is to measure tourism by head count. That’s a habit we’ve been in for a long, long period of time because that’s the way we compare ourselves to other people. It makes no sense whatsoever,” the former Secretary General of the Barbados-based Caribbean Tourism Organization (CTO) said.
In furthering his argument, Vanderpool-Wallace made reference to the banking industry, stressing that no bank had ever put together a balance sheet showing the number of people who go through its doors – a suggestion that financial institutions only measured the amount of business they attract from the people who visit them, and regional tourism officials should do the same.
He added that no two stop-over visitors were the same, therefore each must be rated on economic contribution.
“Somebody comes to stay for two days . . . it’s not equivalent to somebody who comes and stays for two weeks . . . [but] we counting the same people. And so it doesn’t make any sense in terms of how we measure our business . . . and the mismeasurement of our business leads to part of the misunderstanding,” the tourism consultant contended.
Vanderpool-Wallace also identified the approach to calculating visitor spend as another area that needed to be changed.
“Where we take a look at visitor spending . . . where we get this information from? We get this information many times from going to the airports and doing exit surveys . . . sample surveys of people saying what they spend in the destination. They don’t know what they spend in the destination. They don’t know that some of the money that they paid before they came here, never reached,” he said, as he emphasized that tourism’s contribution to the national budget was much greater than was being acknowledged by the authorities because of the mismeasurement.
Therefore, the former minister suggested that policymakers should modify some of these strategies to ensure accurate visitor spend was captured.
The former CTO boss also dealt with the controversial issue of the high cost of regional travel, blaming fixed taxes on airline tickets, which he said were “one of the dumbest things” introduced to tourism.
He stressed that the close proximity of Caribbean countries to each other made them attractive to neighbouring travellers.
However, Vanderpool-Wallace said the fixed taxes increased the burden on visitors from neighbouring countries because they were paying a disproportionate percentage of airfares in taxes.
“Fixed departure taxes is one of the dumbest things that was ever created in the history of mankind. Why? Because what you are doing is growing the proportionate costs substantially of your best prospective customers from nearby. If the ticket is $100 and it’s a $100 in taxes, you have raised it by a substantial amount. If it’s a $1,000 ticket and a $100 in taxes, it is insignificant,” he explained, while recommending that Caribbean countries move from a fixed tax to a levy that is calculated as a percentage of the cost of the ticket.
With a hint of sarcasm, he added that it was a genius move to even impose such taxes from both ends of the destination – on both incoming and outgoing passengers.
Meanwhile, speaking to Barbados TODAY on the sidelines of today’s meeting, Chairman of the Barbados Tourism Marketing Inc Alvin Jemmott agreed that Barbados must do everything necessary to be a more competitive destination and to make it easier to attract visitors at the best possible cost.