The Barbados Welcome Stamp (BWS) is resonating around the globe and generating the kind of excitement that our island, which is starved for economic activity, is more than welcoming. But are we so giddy with exuberance that we may be overlooking some possible downsides?
From television personalities to information technology experts in America’s Silicon Valley to special features on the British Broadcasting Corporation, to chatter by wealthy African professionals, Barbados appears to be the lips of people looking for a COVID-19 escape plan.
Thogori Karago, a former head of Research and Development at LinkedIn for the African continent and an LGBTQ activist, in a recent television programme gushed at the possibility of living and working in Barbados for a year. And she revealed that many of her peers share the same enthusiasm.
But Karago also drew attention to a number of key considerations that should be foremost in the minds of our policymakers as we build out the tourism initiative. Among them was the question of welcoming openly gay couples who decide to take up the BWS offer and bring their partner or family along with them.
The technology expert was charming but very forthright. She made it clear that no enthralling view from her villa on the beach and beautiful weather, was enough to entice her to live and work here for 12 months if she felt she would be discriminated against because of her sexual orientation.
Already, the administration has been forced to respond to LGBTQ activists concerns. And Prime Minister Mia Mottley has assured possible BWS seekers that “Barbados welcomes all”. This is despite our archaic same-sex laws and largely conservative population.
Speaking last week in the House of Assembly, our leader has had to admit that the curveball generated by the BWS application form that left some lingering questions about the inclusiveness of the programme, required an emphatic response.
“There are some difficult things that we are going to have to talk about . . . . I have said that people who know what it is to feel the tinge of discrimination cannot in any other way be the sponsors of discrimination,” she has warned the population.
Our newest tourism target market centres on the digital nomads who have the flexibility to work anywhere in the world, still be highly productive, deliver on deadlines and their bosses are quite happy with that.
There is definitely no shortage of quality accommodation on the island and eateries. But Karago warns us to ensure that the island has the capacity to welcome these long-term guests who want and will rightfully expect high quality, consistent wireless connectivity.
While some Barbadians still question the quality and consistency of their Internet service experience, the two main service providers on the island must surely step up their game. For as quickly as the BWS has captured the imagination of so many around the world, a less than stellar review from one of these digital nomads can spread like wildfire also and undermine the programme’s success.
Prime Minister Mottley said during the last sitting of Parliament to approve the Remote Employment Act 2020 cautioned us that she could not vouch for the success of the BWS but her administration was compelled to seek innovative ways to drive the flagging economy.
We quite agree with her stand. But the island begins to approve applications for the BWS, we say simply “cover all the bases”.