Never before has the importance of tourism and travel to our wellbeing as a country hit home as it has now.
The sector has been crippled at every turn. People are travelling a lot less; some planes are only now resuming flights, even as dozens remain grounded; cruise ships are yet to sail the high seas in our direction; and thousands of workers employed in the mega sector are without jobs and pondering when they will again greet visitors in abundance. The trickle-down effect is painful. Many more businesses and livelihoods remain in peril.
Frankly, the sector is now in survival mode and experts speculate that it could take a year or two, or even longer, to recover.
Even so, the jury is still out amid repeated lockdowns and fears of second and third waves of the deadly unwelcome guest – COVID-19.
We are, however, certain that the resilient sector is not dead and will survive the odds; but it certainly won’t be a return to business as usual.
The conversation has already started here on reinventing tourism to make it better, and indeed it’s a golden opportunity to not only plot the way to recovery, but transformation.
In recent weeks, we have seen signals from newly minted Tourism Minister Senator Lisa Cummins and other tourism officials that the sector is making the shift towards being far more local than international. Countries the world over have been inviting nationals to holiday at home this summer, as uncertainty persists about international travel.
The Tourism Ministry, through its Barbados Uh Come From marketing campaign, is seeking to lure locals to visit attractions, restaurants and take part in other tourism-related activities. Hotels, too, have on offer inviting staycation packages.
Naturally, this is the way to go, if only to kickstart activity in the sector.
What it must not be, though, is a stopgap measure or just another campaign until Americans and the Brits return in their usual numbers.
There is much value in locals loving and experiencing their own country as a premier destination. Who better to support local businesses, take care of the environment and contribute to the development of a sustainable product? Who better to tell the world why Barbados is just beyond your imagination?
Many moons ago, tourism officials had coined a popular tagline that most of us probably remember: “Tourism is our business, let’s play our part.”
It was intended to get Barbadians to buy into the sector and ensure they played a part in making the island a top destination for the thousands that visited our shores.
In many respects it worked, but no doubt sadly waned. Much remains to be done to rebuild national awareness about the sector and why every citizen has a stake. There is also a need for better linkages between tourism and other sectors where all players share in the pie.
Unfortunately, too many Barbadians, even those who work in the sector, suggest they don’t feel as though they really have a stake in the sector.
The complaints about the disparity of service offered to tourists and locals are often loud and clear. Among the claims is that the former appears to be more feted and appreciated while service to the latter leaves much to be desired.
Now is a good time for workers at every level to step up their commitment to service, be it to a Barbadian, Vincentian, American or African.
Another long-standing concern has been the cost of visiting attractions, as highlighted by Chief Product Development Officer of the Barbados Tourism Marketing Inc., Marsha Alleyne who recently appealed to operators to make attractions more affordable for locals.
She said: “We are a tourism-dependent nation and it is really sad that . . . our visitors know Barbados better and more than we Barbadians actually know Barbados. And we want to change that.
“We also want to demystify the whole notion of a tourist attraction; it is there for every single Barbadian and not just the people who visit our island, and we are the best ambassadors to sell this island,” Alleyne added.
This can certainly go a long way to build brand Barbados.
We are at the cusp of building a new sector; one that offers a more sustainable, balanced, and viable product that will meet the expectations of locals and visitors alike. Let’s play our part.