The idea of Bridgetown being opened on Christmas and other public holidays is a non-starter for prominent businessman Eddie Abed – unless Bridgetown is made a duty-free zone.
Abed was responding to concerns raised by Minister of Tourism Kerrie Symmonds after cruise ship visitors found City shops closed on Christmas Day and New Year’s Day.
Although closed stores has been the norm during the holiday season, the minister declared that the practice must end.
Symmonds told Captain Bart Vaartjes of the cruise ship Zuiderdam, which made an inaugural call at the Bridgetown Port on Monday: “I want this to be the last year, captain, that folks like you come here bringing thousands of people to our shores at Christmas time and the streets of Bridgetown are dead. I think that we all have to understand that tourism is our business and we all must seriously be playing our part.”
But Abed told Barbados TODAY that such an arrangement under the current business construct was simply not feasible, declaring that businesses cannot meet the expenses associated with opening on holidays. The Holidays with Pay Act governs the overtime employers are required to pay workers on bank holidays.
“To open a shop on a Sunday and a bank holiday requires tremendous overheads because it is not only a staffing issue and the overtime to go with it, but there is the question of the other inputs that go into running a shop. So, one must first make sure that there is enough activity to cover that overhead but historically there has not been,” Abed explained.
The former head of the Barbados Chamber of Commerce and Industry (BCCI) argued that Barbados was not among the most competitive shopping jurisdictions on cruise ship routes.
“The reality is that the tourist coming into Bridgetown to shop, want to do so at competitive prices. By that I mean that prices must not only be competitive to what they get in their home country but also the other islands they have already visited or will visit. We have so few players in tax-free merchandise in Barbados that the offerings tend to be limited and from what I heard, the competitiveness is not as good as it could be. The other retailers do not have the merchandise nor the pricing that would attract the tourist, hence they do not open,” he said.
The fabric merchant called on Government to declare Bridgetown a duty-free zone in a bid to increase the port of call’s competitiveness which would ensure that shops open during holidays.
“Let us make Bridgetown a duty-free center so that not only tourist could purchase duty-free but also locals with foreign currency. Once we have a basic market into which we can sell, you can find many new players coming and the question of opening on holidays will be a moot point because the demand will outstrip the need,” said Abed, who revealed that he and other business owners have tried to open at Christmas in the past but those attempts “failed miserably”.
“This question of Bridgetown opening on Sundays and public holidays is one that has been around for a while. One of the driving forces for opening shops in the Bridgetown Cruise Terminal was to mitigate that issue. You would find that those retail outlets that cater to duty-free merchandise also have a store in the cruise terminal and for them there is no need to duplicate that resource,” he told Barbados TODAY.