Tourism should not be seen as an “us versus them” market, Minister of Tourism Senator Lisa Cummins cautioned Barbadians Wednesday, as the island looks to restart the economy’s limping driver in the coming weeks.
Speaking in the Senate on the 2021 appropriations, Senator Cummins used her time on the floor to respond to ardent criticism by many commentators on the island’s decades-long dependency on tourism.
She declared: “It cannot be us versus them – It cannot be worker, versus hotel owner; it cannot be labour versus capital; it cannot be visitor versus local; it cannot be domestic tourism versus international tourism; it cannot be international tourism versus regional tourism… it cannot be us versus them.”
Senator Cummins revealed that the Mottley administration had already started to outline several initiatives that would lead to a more robust tourism industry that can better handle future economic shocks. But she stressed that with tourism being one of the largest employers on the island it cannot be ignored.
She began: “The tourism sector has historically been the largest driver of annual GDP for Barbados. It has been and continues to be, the largest source of direct and indirect employment; approximately 40 per cent of our annual GDP is derived from our tourism sector, and we have approximately 35,000 humans, souls, Barbadians, people who live and work and breathe in the same communities that we do, who are employed in the tourism sector.”
Senator Cummins welcomed the industry’s diversification but said that condemning outright an industry that has contributed so much to the economy was not the right path to take as all of the world’s high-earning economies have been adversely affected by COVID-19.
She continued: “Oil-rich economies that struggled as a result of the impact of COVID-19 on their economic structure. They are having a conversation around the need of diversification. The agriculture sector, including in economies like India that were fast-moving, fast-growing and booming, their economy has been struck down in large measure, both services and agriculture production, by the disruptions occasioned by COVID.
“Traditional and non-traditional sectors are having a conversation around diversification, it is not us versus them. Barbados is not the only country in the world that needs to have a conversation around diversification, and tourism is not the only sector in the world that is facing a contraction that also requires us, to have a conversation around diversification.
“So I do not want us to fool ourselves into thinking that we are the only ones shouting from the mountain tops, about diversification, or that there is some magic to diversification.”
Senator Cummins concluded that the main lesson the tourism industry ought to learn from the COVID-19 experience is that everyone, from property owners to workers and the average citizen, has an immense role and part to play in reviving and modernizing the product.
She said: “We can call it the tourism economy, we can call it any number of things, but ultimately, it speaks to a sense of national ownership of our assets, of our heritage, our people, our being, and our very identity, and the willingness to share it with others. Whether they come from among us or from beyond us, it is a willingness to own who we are.” (SB)