Tourism visitor numbers are up record levels last year but Minister of Tourism Kerrie Symmonds wants tourists to spend more.
And he is calling on the industry to better collect spending data from their guests while on the island.
The Tourism Minister was giving his maiden speech to the 67-year-old Barbados Hotel and Tourism Association (BHTA) membership at the Lloyd Erskine Sandiford Centre on Wednesday.
Symmonds acknowledged that higher taxes imposed on the industry last year has made it more difficult, but pointing to record arrivals from Canada, UK and US, he said that this was an indication that the future of the industry remained bright.
According to Symmonds, despite the challenging circumstances, the tourism industry closed the year with 86,723 arrivals from Canada, the third highest ever from that source market.
There were 225,519 stay-over visitors to Barbados from Britain last year, the second highest number of arrivals ever.
It was also a record year for arrivals out of the US market, with Barbados breaking the 200,000 mark for the first time to welcome 204,583 long-stay visitors.
Symmonds also reported that from January to May, there were 13,907 more visitors to the island, when compared to the same period in 2018.
“Preliminary data shows that between January and May 2019, Barbados has attracted 324,551 stay-over visitors,” he said.
But while expressing satisfaction with the visitor arrival numbers, he said: “I am not persuaded that arrivals data in terms of numbers is the very best possible way for us to make an assessment of the performance of this sector.
“It is quite possible to have a herd of cows but not have very much milk, and I keep saying . . . I did not come here to count the cows, I came here to make sure we could drink the milk.
“Therefore, I feel, and I am unapologetic on this point, that the issue for us really has to be to look at the visitor spend.”
Citing the Caribbean Tourism Organization (CTO) data, which showed that on average visitors spent more while in Barbados last year than in 2017, he said this was a positive sign.
With a 2.7 per cent increase in visitor arrivals last year, total expenditure was just over US$1.1 billion for the year, compared to the US$1 billion a year prior.
Symmonds said: “Even as I go there, I want to say to you that it is my judgment… we have done business for a long time in the same way, and I want you to forgive me when I say to you that I perhaps bring a different perspective.”
He argued that there was still too much guessing on tourists’ spending and he wanted that changed.
“It is one of the things we must get right here in Barbados,” he insisted. “Beyond that, I am pleased to say to you that I think that in spite of the challenges we have had, wherever you put your perspective, whether you look at it from an arrivals numbers only or whether you look at it at a visitor spend only, the good news is that the nose of the ship is pointing in the right direction.”
Saying he was sympathetic to industry officials about the level of taxes that have now “saddled” them, he promised that despite the “painful path” there were “better things to come”.
Pointing to a number of plans on the cards to encourage more people to visit the island including Government’s Vision 2020 initiative and the planned development along the south west coast, Symmonds said tourism was in line for more visitors and more spending.
He said: “I am painfully aware of the fact that you have had to walk a difficult path during 2018. I want to make 2019 and 2020 as better for you as it can possibly be.”