With Barbados’ tourism product a little more expensive as a result of recent taxes, Minister of Tourism Kerrie Symmonds is giving the assurance that careful and vigorous work is being undertaken so the destination could offer better value for money.
Pointing to some measures that have already been put in place by the eight-month-old Mia Mottley-led administration to reinvigorate the tourism industry, Symmonds told Barbados TODAY he was aware that while tourist arrival numbers have been robust the spend is not where it should be.
He said while it was critical that the offerings be refreshed, a holistic approach was needed.
“So we are looking at a number of the existing attractions in Barbados, trying to identify areas where they can be strengthened or refreshed and then we are trying to build out green-field attractions,” he said on Wednesday while attending the Caribbean Travel Marketplace in Montego Bay, Jamaica.
“It has to be a value-for-money proposition in Barbados. When people are going to pay a premium fare to come to Barbados they want to get a premium experience. You can’t put a five-star stamp on something and then offer them a two or three-star product.
“So there are a number of issues we have to get absolutely right in Barbados and those are not necessarily tourism industry issues but they are supportive issues – things like the little spike in crime that we had over the course of the last few weeks and the reluctance of people to ensure they properly dispose of garbage and have an efficient system of collection and so on. Those are the things I think can create a negative impression and hurt the product even more than the prices,” he explained.
As part of $1.2 billion austerity package announced last year, Government imposed a number of new taxes on the tourism sector. Chief among them was a US$70 Airline Travel and Development fee for trips to extra-regional destinations and a US$35 fee for travel within the Caribbean.
A range of hotel room taxes from US$2.50 to US$10 per night have also been implemented and a ten per cent tax on shared accommodation such as Airbnb.
The latest Central Bank report indicated that despite a 2.8 per cent increase in long-stay visitor arrivals, tourism output fell by 1.6 per cent last year, from 2.2 per cent in 2017, due to a decline in the length of stay and less tourist spend.
Symmonds’ comments came on Wednesday afternoon just as the Central Bank was giving its economic review for 2018.
He said while people were generally prepared to spend premium dollars to come to Barbados because of the reputation it has for safety and friendliness, he insisted that Barbados must give value for money if the country is to earn more from the industry.
“My position on the tourism industry is that I have wanted to have it re-thought for a while, and that process is in train,” he said, as he highlighted the establishment of the new National Cruise Development Commission and ongoing upgrades at the Grantley Adams International Airport.
Symmonds said he was yet to do a review of the revenue intake from the taxes, which took effect October last year. However, he said his ministry has been observing the reaction from the various markets.
The tourism minister said while there was a shockwave initially with some believing that Barbados was pricing itself out the competition, that response did not match up with the record number of visitors this winter season so far and the future bookings.
However, pointing out that it was not a clear-cut situation, Symmonds explained that while some markets including Canada, were performing well generally, there were some areas within the market where there was “increased price sensitivity”.
“So that is something that I have sat down with the marketing team and discussed and we are looking at ways in which we can try to counteract that. All in all, I don’t think that we are having an exceptionally difficult time as a result of the tax imposition,” he said.
Congratulating CEO of the Elegant Hotels Group Sunil Chatrani and others who received awards during the Caribbean Travel Marketplace this week, Symmonds said his wish was that the Elegant Hotels model would be replicated among the Intimate Hotels group.
This group represents about 50 boutique hotel properties across the island.
“They are going to be branded as a Barbadian product called Intimate Hotels, and certainly the intention is to have a variety of experiences under one brand in a similar way. Those discussions have begun and I think we are making some useful progress in that regard,” disclosed Symmonds, who was not in a position to give an update on the proposed Hyatt Centric project or Sam Lords Castle development.
“Similarly, in so far as the hotel-related attractions are concerned, we are looking at areas for redevelopment and re-imagination of the concept so that entertainment areas like St Lawrence Gap and Second Street, Holetown are areas where I think we are going to be focusing on in 2019, with a view to trying to make them as cutting edge as possible in terms of the experience. So a lot of planning has gone into the latter part of 2018 and I think we are now at the stage where we are about to start the execution of some of those plans,” he said.