Many of our Barbadian economic policymakers are in the habit of speaking glowingly about the economic success story of Singapore – the little 277 square mile island in East Asia that gained its Independence around the same time as Barbados – but they conveniently overlook the single most fundamental economic policy decision made by the political leaders of Singapore when they attained their Independence: namely, their refusal to base the long-term economic future of Singapore on the tourism industry!
Put simply, those charged with crafting the destiny of independent Singapore saw tourism promotion as merely a temporary short-term measure that they would concentrate on for a couple years in order to give themselves the breathing space that they required to construct a solid foundation for the long-term economic development of the country – manufacturing industry and its handmaiden, high quality professional services! When, pray tell, are we in Barbados going to take that economic lesson to heart?
Lee Kuan Yew, the political father of Singapore, said that Singapore started on its path to industrialization with a “small domestic market of two million”. Well we, with our CARICOM Single Market and Economy (CSME), possess a “small domestic market” of 18 million – nine times the size of Singapore’s in 1965!
In light of the foregoing, when are we going to construct a vision for the future economic development of Barbados that transcends the old, traditional idea of constructing more and more “foreign brand name high-rise hotels” along the beaches of Barbados?
Start With the Needs of CARICOM
I would sincerely recommend that we start our mission to construct such a vision by contemplating the needs of our 14 fellow CARICOM member states and of our 18 million strong Caribbean Community population. Can’t we see a role for Barbados and Barbadians in organizing ourselves to respond to these needs and to benefit economically by doing so? Can’t we see multiple opportunities for providing the nations and populations of our Caribbean Community (including our own Barbadian population) with manufactured goods, agro-industrial products, professional, technical and administrative services, and artistic skills? And if we can envisage these opportunities, when are we going to set about to systematically investigate and develop relevant technologies and organizational methodologies to equip us to tackle such a mission?
A Niche in the System of High Tech Manufacturing
And then, let us look beyond the confines of our Caribbean Community. When are we going to grasp the possibility of having Barbados and Barbadians participate in the world’s advanced clean, high technology manufacturing industry by partnering with world leading manufacturing companies in training our workforce to world-class, high tech manufacturing standards, and then using that collaborative achievement to persuade such “partner companies” to relocate some of their manufacturing operations to our country?
When are we going to do the research required to determine the types of clean, high technology manufacturing operations that could be profitably pursued in our island nation, and either systematically attract such operations to our shores, or, in partnership with our CARICOM brothers and sisters, develop them ourselves?
When are we finally going to fully embrace the concept of developing educational services as a foreign exchange earning industry? We have already seen the potential of this sphere of activity with the Ross University example. Can we not strive for a Barbados in which our educational system is performing at such an elevated level that not only are we producing world class graduates (technicians and professionals), but we are also transforming our nation into a magnet for persons in search of a first class education in a beautiful, safe, secure, efficient and comfortable environment?
And how about envisaging our country as a centre of world-class training and production in the performing, visual and literary arts? Can’t we see the tremendous benefits that we can derive if we develop the Barbados Community College’s Arts programmes and the Cave Hill Campus’ Errol Barrow Centre for Creative Imagination (EBCCI) to their fullest potential? Can’t we envisage a multiplicity of outstanding Barbadian artistes and creatives literally conquering the world?
Similarly, how about health services? Barbados is fortunate to possess a natural environment that lends itself to peace and healing. Why can’t we develop Barbados into a centre of world-class health services – for our own nationals, our CARICOM brothers and sisters, and for international patients alike?
Still a role for Tourism
And please do not misinterpret my position and come to the conclusion that I am recommending that Barbados forego tourism! I am not suggesting that at all. Even Singapore, after all, still attracts over 17 million tourists to its shores every year.
What I am saying is that we should not be content to allow tourism to be the mainstay of our economy! Rather, we should have a national aspiration and a concrete economic strategy to develop advanced, clean, high technology manufacturing and the provision of high quality professional and artistic services into our nation’s primary economic activities.
And, of course, there should be an important continuing role for tourism. As I intimated above, in spite of Singapore’s towering achievements in manufacturing, industry and professional services, it still plays host to over 17 million tourists every year. But the tourists come to Singapore not because someone has constructed a “foreign brand name hotel” on a beach. Rather, they come because of the reputation that Singapore has garnered for itself over the past 53 years of Independence; they come for the culture, for the national achievement, for the clean and green environment, for the sense of personal safety and security, and for the wonderful tangible infrastructure and the equally wonderful intangible superstructure. They come for the “Singapore Story”!
A Bajan Tourism that is Bajan Owned
And so should it be with Barbados as well! Let the tourists come for our culture, our heritage, our arts, our history, our environmental beauty, our elevated consciousness and standards, our achievements as a people and a nation. Indeed, let the whole island, and the entire population, be “the” tourist attraction – not just the beach! And let them spend their vacation days in Barbadian owned hotels and guest houses that are located all over the island, and that radiate the unique charm and personality of the Barbadian. Let them come for a beautiful “Barbados Story”!
Citizen of Barbados