One of the early pioneers in the local tourism industry is suggesting that governments in the region get out of the airline business if they are to see improvements in regional travel.
At the same time, retired travel and cruise industry expert Cecil Ince told Barbados TODAY that this country’s bread and butter industry would do well with more training of industry workers and continued improvements in customer service.
“When you experience the service on a cruise ship, which is largely drawn from the Far East, it is impeccable. Our hotel service is generally very good but for some reason airline travel has become much more a utility and people are frequent travellers and there are all sorts of incentives. But I think it can certainly be improved,” he said.
Ince is one of the founders of the now Foster & Ince Group, which originally started with a focus on the travel agency business in 1967.
Ince said the company was forced to become more innovative by 1983 and focus more on cruise tourism, following changes in England after the Falklands War a year prior.
He argued that Barbadians needed to be more innovative, adding that while the sugar industry “came and went in cycles before”, it was “gone for good now” and therefore would not be able to help sustain the economy for much longer.
He said it was up to Government to decide if it would “do what St Kitts did and just let it . . . die” or make it run its course since “the average Barbadian might think of sugar still as ‘us’”.
Ince said he did not see any one industry driving growth and development of the local economy, adding that there were many opportunities available.
“I think Barbadians probably need to be a little more inclined to take risks. Jamaicans are great risk-takers and have done well in overseas involvement, as Trinidadians have; look at the amount of Barbados that Trinidad owns now,” he said.
“I think that opportunities today are certainly based on the technological avenue but it needs imagination. I think Barbadians are getting that way. We tended to trail a bit in that regard, but it is growing,” he said, pointing out that the credit union movement and Caribbean-based commercial banks have been very helpful in many aspects.
In relation to the airline industry and governments’ involvement, Ince, who served 18 years in the industry after joining in 1952, expressed disappointment that nations within the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) were still too segregated.
Pointing out that Barbados remained the majority shareholder of the struggling regional airline LIAT, Ince said it was time for “a unification of aviation thinking”.
“Unfortunately, I don’t think that governments are the best owners of airlines. Although there is always a fear that private enterprise will charge more because they want to see a profit and that government can subsidize, but by the same token LIAT has not been a great financial success although they try very hard,” he said.
Highlighting the high cost of regional travel, Ince said pricing was a “dynamic factor” in intra-regional travel.
And he said he hoped that the recent taxes of US$70 for international travel and US$35 for regional travel were of a temporary nature, adding that he believed some of the tax measures implemented last year were due to the deal Barbados was seeking with the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
In relation to service in the tourism industry, Ince said he believed there was need for more training and improvement.
“I believe the government has to do a bit of training, there are good immigration officers and there are ones who just do it as a job and don’t have their heart in it and that shows. I think we could improve that . . . I think the airlines still try,” he said.
Commenting on the work of the current administration so far, Ince said: “every right-thinking Barbadian must be very grateful that this new government has made tremendous progress in keeping the dollar safe – the present parity of BD$2 to US$1 – which we have been at since 1979.”
“I am very heartened by this new government because it is increasing the confidence that we had lost for a while, which is very unfortunate,” he added.