Some of the first Barbadians to meet and greet cruise visitors off the ship – vendors and taxi drivers – say the tourists are tired of what the island has to offer and want a say in a product reboot.
The service providers, responded with little surprise to the government’s bleak outlook for an industry that has seen cruise passenger spending and visitor satisfaction plummet over the last decade.
They gave Barbados TODAY first-hand confirmation of an industry in “a state of deep crisis”, as portrayed Saturday by Minister of Tourism Kerrie Symmonds.
Craftspeople at Pelican Village want the handicraft shopping centre, located on the edge of the Bridgetown Port, to be moved from the periphery of the visitor experience to become a national arts centre.
With Symmonds announcing that a National Cruise Development Commission was to be introduced early next month to overhaul the industry, proprietor Azizah Onifa said she hoped that Pelican Village would not be forgotten.
“Pelican should not be ignored as the culture space. I think they should develop it into that culture space where persons should come into an island and get an experience of culture and holistic culture – art, music, dance, singing,” she told Barbados TODAY.
“More advertisement should be going onto the cruise [ship] so they should know where the businesses [are] for local arts and local industry but . . . you still need to put certain infrastructures that could be . . . painting the buildings in murals [or] getting a wire bender to put different signs – things that could be attractive that they would come across to take pictures,” Onifa suggested.
Artisan Jamal Ifill from Crystal Forms Barbados contended the space should be transformed into an art district. He called on the Government to attract millennials who were seeking new and exciting cultural experiences – not duty free shopping.
“You can have it as an art district of Barbados. There are so many young entrepreneurs who are doing amazing things and I know they will be glad for an opportunity for a shop to be set up and . . . also bring new ideas of how we can improve the place,” he said.
But the 31-year-old craftsman appeared to tire of meetings and revitalization plans that have never borne fruit since the village was reopened in 1999. After two decades, it was time for progress, he argued.
“To sit down and have meetings which are counterproductive, where at the end of the day you don’t see any progress or you don’t see any movement in terms of the ideas or proposal,” he said.
“Pelican Village should never be in a state like this for such a long period of time – almost two decades.”
He added: “The people who have been here all of that time have heard a lot of talk over the years but nobody really put anything into action.”
Taxi operator Andrew McCaskie suggested that his colleagues, long seen at the bottom of the cruise industry’s totem pole, wanted in on the conversation on new policies to save the cruise industry.
His business had reached its “worst point” since he began driving taxis 28 years ago, he told Barbados TODAY.
Taxis in Bridgetown, he added, rarely received business from cruise passengers.
“The taxis around town, Lower Broad Street and such . . . are getting nothing going in the Port [and] nothing coming out of the Port,” he said.
“The Government really has to find a way for us, we are people too; this is our job,” said McCaskie.
He repeated a frequently heard complaint that taxi drivers have been scrambling for ever-dwindling fares as passengers are diverted to large tour bus companies.
“We [are] at the bottom of the scale and we [are] getting the ends. We are not like these big tour buses that get big bookings off the ship . . . we come work today and we don’t even know if we are going to get a job,” he said.
Symmonds revealed in a news conference on Saturday that a study on the industry indicated that despite rising numbers of arrivals, the sector was failing. Cruise passenger spend had dropped to a low 47 per cent within the past ten years, he said.
A study by the Caribbean Tourism Organisation discovered that average spend of the 725,020 visitors to Barbados in 2016 was US$60, dropping to US$58 in 2017 despite a record 818,752 arrivals.
There has also been a significant decline in visitor satisfaction, with the island ranking 24th in a 2014 after placing 10th in 2008, according to a report by the Business Research and Economic Advisors (BREA).