Outgoing Chairman of the Barbados Hotel and Tourism Association (BHTA) Stephen Austin has proposed a provident fund for tourism workers.
He put forward the idea to the BHTA’s annual general meeting on Wednesday among several other suggestions, including a credit union, a job bank and a job training fund.
As he outlined several areas for improvement, he broached the subject of millions being owed to local and regional hoteliers by a major international tour operator.
Austin did not say how much was owed to local hoteliers or how many were affected but said it was time hotels here “join forces and cement what we are doing to ensure that tour operators know we want payment in advance” while proposing that they put new requirements in place.
Earlier this week, Frank Comito, Chief Executive Officer of the Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association (CHTA), issued a second call to the world’s largest leisure, travel and tourism companies, TUI Group, to reimburse Caribbean hotels and resorts for services received from those hotels whose survival was now under threat.
“This is critical for us to survive. We all know that there are tour operators now that owe us funds and we need to find the togetherness to go forward and ensure that before a visitor comes to Barbados that operators send the funds to us,” Austin told the first-ever BHTA virtual annual general meeting.
“We should also consider how we market our own direct channels to market our properties and sell our product directly.”
During his final report to members as chairman, Austin also called for the establishment of a fund that industry workers would contribute to so they could benefit in challenging times.
“The tourism workers’ fund, I think that is something that will be critical towards assisting our people. It would be an emergency fund as well as a human development type fund – a 50/50 type fund,” said Austin.
He said while this was an initial thought, the financing of the fund and other details would have to be worked out.
Austin said: “Whether it comes out of the levies or it is a new $1 or $2 taken off the rate later on when we start recovering, but we need something to help when there is a crisis. We would have never thought this would have happened. If we had this fund we would have been able to supplement or assist our tourism workers during this extended period of no work really.
“If you really look at tourism, we really need to look at a possible credit union. Why not a credit union for tourism?”
Austin also called for the reintroduction of a tourism award ceremony to celebrate workers in the industry.
“They are the frontline of our tourism and hospitality product. So I am appealing… to the Minister of Tourism to bring back or reinvent the Barbados tourism awards where we celebrate workers and highlight their stories and journey through the industry,” he said.
Austin also highlighted a number of areas where he believed more work could be done.
He said he was “a bit embarrassed” about the state of the Concorde Experience the airport museum of the supersonic airliner, saying it needed “fixing”.
Austin told hoteliers: “This is an opportunity for us because if we are looking at possibly health testing at this time that is an area where we could look at the Concord Experience and fix what needs to be fixed and do the testing there. That is an opportunity for us,” he said.
For the medium to long-term, Austin said the Concorde Experience could be redesigned to introduce more interactivity and a 3D experience for guests.
He also called on authorities to continue to improve sanitary and security conditions in the popular Oistins and St Lawrence Gap areas.
Acknowledging that the pandemic was like no other seen in recent times, Austin likened its impact on tourism to a category 5 hurricane but said he was still hopeful that outstanding challenges facing the industry would be adequately addressed soon.
Adding that the goals of the BHTA “have to be refocused”, the tourism executive proposed that the association, through its new website that was introduced during the meeting, establish a job bank that would allow job seekers to upload their resume and other relevant information, and potential employers in the industry to find talent in one spot.
Austin also used the opportunity to encourage members to continue to provide timely data to the association so it could better lobby on their behalf.
He said he recognised a number of agencies were duplicating some processes, pointing out that the BHTA should look at ways to create better synergies among all stakeholders and agencies so that the interest of everyone was adequately addressed without overlapping.
“We have to be ready to restart, we cannot wait to say ‘okay, we are not going to be wearing any mask anymore so next year we should be fine when tourism comes back’. We have to be ready now for next month, for next week, and we have to do all possible as people to do better,” he added.
The BHTA’s incoming Chairman Geoffrey Roach said he was “extremely optimistic” that the industry would bounce back to its former glory days.
Likening Barbados to a diamond, Roach said that as a destination, Barbados has faced tremendous challenges before and came out shining. And he promised to take on the challenge of addressing the issues highlighted by his predecessor. [email protected]