The perennial cries of Bridgetown taxis over losing an “unfair” share of the market to tour bus operators are to receive Government’s “priority” attention this winter season, Minister of Tourism Kerrie Symmonds has announced.
The taxi drivers are to be given a greater piece of visitor business as a matter of priority, Symmonds told the House of Assembly during the start of debate on the 2019-2020 Estimates of Revenue and Expenditure this morning.
He revealed that the 255 taxi operators at the Bridgetown Port were getting only five per cent of the business of transporting visitors around Barbados, insisting that the situation was an injustice to democracy.
He sought to make it clear he was not interested in taking away business from any one segment of the transportat market, but rather in enlarging the pie.
“I am interested in having a greater access to opportunity for the persons who are driving taxis for a living,” Symmonds said, adding that he has already met with the taxi operators at the two ports of entry on the way forward.
“Philosophically, that does not sit well with me and I think we do the country and the image of that thing we call democracy, and economic democracy is at the forefront of my thoughts on this matter, we do it a tremendous injustice if we allow that to continue,” the minister warned.
Symmonds said: “There is now a project proposal to be rolled out during this winter season 2019-20 and that will be to see the Bridgetown Port Cooperative Taxis branded. First step. It will allow for them to offer intimate and smaller personalized tours.”
The minister disclosed that four activities are to be examined: eco-adventures such as the Graeme Hall Nature Sanctuary, a tour of Historic Bridgetown, beach activities and heritage tourism.
“All of these are areas which we are in a position to flesh out greater product development and have greater activity,” Symmonds told legislators. “But we have to have a transportation sector that is branded so that it can function as a cooperative distinctly; that is be-spoke in nature so that you can have customed-designed tours and for the first time ever, we have to connect these people to cruise ships.”
Symmonds said Government was helping the taxi operators to be able to attend trade shows and acquire insurance cover, noting that the insurance requirements for the cruise industry are phenomenal.
“The board of the Bridgetown Port has now agreed [that] they will assist the taxi coop when once up and functioning with its first year of financial commitment for insurances that you don’t have to have individual taxi men looking for find ($120,000-$140,000) in order to get the insurance necessary,” he revealed.
The Minister of Tourism said the service which the taxis offer must also be promoted and sold.
He said: “We can do this via use of modern technology, for example apps on cellphones, so that as soon as you come into Barbados, you can get a range… a menu of the things that Barbados is offering; you are not reliant on any middle man; you can find your way to the attraction that suits you, [that] fits you personal interest in a better way and you have a five or six-seater able to offer you a different type of experience that does not right now quite frankly, have access to the market in the same way.”
The Minister argued that one of the main solutions to their problems was getting more visitors who spend more.
He revealed the findings of a recent report by the Business Economic Research Advisors of the Florida Caribbean Cruise Association on tourist spend.
The Minister told the House of Assembly: “The average spend for transit passengers for Barbados in 2014 was $75.85. In 2018 it dropped to $64.05 as average spend. This is now the statistical data that is making it patently clear to us that we are failing ourselves. We can correct that problem I believe, by more deeply involving those persons who are taxi operators at the Bridgetown Port.”