Happy New Year! I am glad that you have made a safe transition and that you continue to give this space your support and attention. I think, as with most people, I continue to be in a reflective mood – both at the personal and national level – as I centre myself and create my goal list for 2018.
On New Year’s Day, a researcher from the University of Puerto Rico contacted me to say that she was doing some comparative research on the impact of hurricanes in two Caribbean countries. I was happy to begin a facilitative meeting with her and it was not long after the conversation got going that my willingness to assist turned to shock, some resentment and finally wonder.
The researcher had contacted me not for my work in other Caribbean sister states. She actually wanted my first person account of my experience with the hurricane. I was shocked that a researcher operating at the level of representing a university could be making such a grave and basic mistake.
Mild resentment accompanied my hitting out on my keyboard: “I live in BARBADOS, the hurricane hit BARBUDA.” Then wonder replaced resentment quickly. I understood the deep implication of what I had experienced. A researcher is a pretty well educated individual who, because of collaborative work and interest, was supposed to be more versed in her research area than the average person. If such a person was not making a distinction between Barbuda and Barbados, certainly the average vacationer was not making that distinction either.
With the amount of money that Barbados invests in tourism consultants, high-paid executives and boards to develop and manage our tourist product, how could this type of misunderstanding be abroad? I would have thought that one of the damage control mechanisms for the passage of the systems in the Caribbean would be for our tourism officials to get out there with an advertising campaign that clearly distinguished Barbados from any other affected area and to ensure that misinformation is not a feature of the marketplace. I’m not sure what the punchline could be but maybe something like, ‘we are the one with sewage flowing in the street and garbage in piles next to the road, but our rooftops are on and our island otherwise intact!’
One of the things that it is reasonable to do at the beginning of a new year is to take stock of finances and project for the year to come. Needless to say, our personal fortunes can only be as good as the national fortune. Thus we must all be concerned with the significant floundering that is taking place in the single biggest sector of the Barbadian economy. The reputation that a destination has is the kernel upon which any tourism industry turns. Barbados over the years has become known for the hospitality of its people, the cleanliness of its surroundings and the high and effective standard of governance on the island.
Are we still beacons of cleanliness? As our people cower under bills and taxes, are they still the most courteous? What about our governance model? Have we maintained our reputation for stellar management and impermeability from corruption? And if we are no longer associated with these things, whither the Barbados tourism product by December 2018? Will we be able to adequately and effectively re-associate our brand with other characteristics that will keep us afloat in a fiercely competitive market place?
As we look at the coming year with respect to the tourism fortunes of Barbados, we must both be able to address the issues which are threatening our brand security and redesign the tourism product to be more in line with international trends. Home stay and couch stay-type arrangements are becoming a major part of tourism offerings the world over. The children of the mini-moke tourists that were a feature of Barbados’ industry between 1985 and about 1996 are looking for the same low budget and authentic holidays which they grew up with pictures and stories of.
Some of those children would have been conceived on low budget honeymoons to Barbados or may even have accompanied their parents to the island as young children. They are themselves now at the ages their parents would have first visited the island and mortgages and student loans may not make them the most wealthy, but there may be some level of disposable income.
The hotels that would have accommodated their price range have moved into different clientele and those visitors have moved to staying with the families and friends of the staff they met over the years. The new Internet names for such arrangements include ‘couch surfing’ and ‘Airbnb’ but, as with many things, they are not new creations and the Caribbean has had a significant hand in shaping the industries before they were internationalized.
It is a new year. We have squandered about ten of them with regard to the development of Barbados. Shall this be the one in which we kick the gear in?