Former Minister of Tourism Richard Sealy is adamant that he left behind a vibrant cruise sector, contradicting charges by his successor, Kerrie Symmonds, that the sector had been in decline for the last ten years.
In a staunch defence of his management of the cruise industry, which he led from 2008 until the Democratic Labour Party (DLP) was voted out of office on May 24, Sealy told Barbados TODAY the sector, which registered record numbers of arrivals in recent years, was nothing like the bleak picture painted by Symmonds on Saturday.
“I really don’t think I have anything to defend because the numbers speak for themselves. We had record numbers as recently as last year and that would not have been the case if the product was as bad as it is being made out to be,” Sealy argued.
Speaking at a news conference last week, Symmonds painted a picture of an industry in “deep state of crisis”. He revealed 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.
“The situational analysis having been completed, I am now in a position to say to you that it reveals that the cruise sector in Barbados is in a state of very deep crisis.
“In my view, unless imminent and immediate and fundamental alternatives are put in place, we are confronting ourselves with catastrophic failure,” he stressed at the time.
Port size constraints, inefficient passenger infrastructure, low interest in onshore activities and undesirably poor customer service were all listed by Symmonds as issues which could cripple the local cruise industry.
There has also been a significant decline in visitor satisfaction, with the island ranking 24th in 2014 after placing 10th in 2008, according to a report by the Business Research and Economic Advisors (BREA).
However, the matter of extremely low spending by cruise passengers was an issue, which Symmonds said needed to be immediately addressed
Quoting surveys by the Barbados-based Caribbean Tourism Organisation (CTO), Symmonds said the average spend of the 725,020 cruise visitors to Barbados in 2016 was US$60, dropping to US$58 in 2017 despite a record 818,752 arrivals.
Of the approximately US$1.1 billion spent by visitors to Barbados last year, the cruise sector contributed only $36.9 million or just three per cent of total visitor spend.
However, Sealy today argued that Symmonds could not make such a determination with any degree of certainty, as the measurements for visitor spend were not an exact science.
“How does he know that? He doesn’t know that because we do not have accurate measurement of tourist spend. We have indicative figures from CTO. So I don’t know how anybody knows that,” Sealy contended.
Barbados TODAY spoke with a tourism official who explained that the data is compiled from a random exit survey of passengers at the cruise terminal.
“The methodology is by no means foolproof because the accuracy of the information is dependent on the recollection of the persons completing the survey. So for example a person may have forgotten some of the items or services they may have paid for. Notwithstanding, it is still a very good proxy and one which continues to be useful in helping to inform vital changes within the sector,” the tourism official explained.