Hotels, guest houses and villas may soon be required to ensure their properties are fully accessible for people with disabilities, Minister of Tourism Kerrie Symmonds hinted on Wednesday.
He said changes could be coming to the “tremendous amount” of concessions being granted to the tourism industry.
He made the suggestion while addressing the opening of the fourth Caribbean International Tourism Conference at the University of the West Indies (UWI) School for Graduate Studies and Research.
The Tourism Minister told the room of local and visiting researchers and other industry executives that the ‘share economy’ will play a critical role in the industry’s development, likely requiring common standards for accessibility for people with disabilities.
Referring to shared accommodation players like Airbnb and timeshare operators with their “own inherent set of standard”, Symmonds suggested it may be necessary for Government to implement its own set of national standards, particularly on accessibility.
He said: “That is the discussions I think we have to have in this region and certainly we will have it in Barbados if I have anything to do with it, because I am concerned I can see a villa with seven or eight rooms on the west coast marketing itself as a shared economy but it is all upstairs.
“If you have eight or so rooms what accommodation are you making for persons with disability if this thing is all multistorey?
“So the question must be asked, not only at that level but ordinary hotels, and I know I am going to hear ‘but minister, it is very costly’, but you have to put in the threshold, and it may well be that for the future greenfield investment in accommodation, make some provision for persons who are disabled.”
Symmonds said it was time that the country’s “long-term development interest” was placed on the front burner in developing a more sustainable product.
He said: “The reality is, I need not tell many of you here at UWI that part of the problem that Barbados face is the tremendous amount of concessions that have to be granted to the tourism sector and therefore, there is a seepage of foreign exchange.
“If you are not doing the level of calculation in terms of accurate tourism accounting you really do not know if the trade off is making sense for you, are you giving away more in the hope of getting and you don’t get?
“Then in the context of the quality and type of concessions especially, one or two that have come about in more recent times, have they really worked in the best long-term developmental interest of the country?
“Those are the discussions that I think frankly that we have to have.”
Climate change was one of the threats facing the industry, Symmonds said, adding that there were a number of other issues threatening the industry’s sustainability that could not be ignored.
As the industry represents about 40 per cent of Barbados gross domestic product, Symmonds said: “We cannot have a sustainability issue ignored and we cannot engage seriously in policy without placing sustainability at the very epicenter of all that we are discussing when we talk about planning out the future of tourism certainly in Barbados.”
He suggest placing greater emphasis on building practices in the industry and for deeper linkages to be formed with agriculture, among other sectors.
For the three-day conference, which has as its theme,Navigating the Destination of the Future, the UWI partnered with a number of other universities, to discuss issues facing regional tourism and come up with possible solutions.