by Marlon Madden
Micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) in Barbados linked to the tourism sector are in line to receive technical and financial support under a new regional project that is designed to promote economic diversification, job creation and resilience in the tourism sector.
Started in January of this year but officially launched last Wednesday, the UNDP project – FUTURE-Tourism or FUT-Tourism – will run until June 2022 and is being funded to the tune of US$1.5 million.
According to officials, the initiative, which is focused heavily on gender equality and the empowerment of women and youth entrepreneurs, is designed to boost recovery and support the digitally enabled transformation of business processes and value chains of MSMEs directly or indirectly linked to the tourism sector.
The countries to benefit are Barbados, Anguilla, Antigua and Barbuda, the British Virgin Islands, Dominica, Grenada, Montserrat, ST Kitts and Nevis, St Lucia and St Vincent and the Grenadines.
Ugo Blanco, Deputy Resident Representative for UNDP Barbados and the Eastern Caribbean, said he was counting on the targeted countries to take up the financial and technical assistance being offered.
“We will fail if the FUT-tourism, this project, did not contribute to identifying, define and implement policy solutions to address informality of the MSME sector, promote alliances with the private sector, increase investments, create jobs and re-skilling programmes for job creation,” said Blanco.
“We know this is not easy but that is precisely why we believe this project is relevant and we are confident that not only because all the activities will be led by the respective governments but because we are planning to work hand-in-hand with the best possible teams of experts and institutions, and local, global and regional professionals that know about tourism, MSMEs and that love and care about the Caribbean,” he said.
The initiative consists of three main overarching outcomes – regional dialogue and policy solutions for the tourism sector through a consultative and participatory approach, technical support for MSME retooling and access to markets within tourism value chains, and financial assistance for the economic recovery of MSMEs affected by the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Under the final pillar, FUT-Tourism will provide grants to MSMEs to facilitate strategic investments and to further support resilience recovery from the impact of the pandemic.
This may include investments to repurpose production facilities to manufacture high-demand goods and services related to the tourism industry and/or transition from an in-person, physical interaction business model to a virtual one.
During a video presentation, Director and Co-Founder of the Barbados-based Marcos Communications Tricia Williams outlined how the COVID-19 pandemic had impacted her business, while pointing to plans she had to grow her operation.
The marketing firm, she said, would greatly benefit from the new UNDP project, pointing out that like many other businesses, her operation needed to “catch up” with required digital innovation to remain relevant.
Williams said her firm has already identified several technologies that would be useful in enhancing its role as a support service for the tourism industry, the most notable, she said, was a digital asset management platform to enhance the ease of business in a contact-less environment.
“It is clear that the UNDP FUTURE Tourism programme would not only help us to keep up through this modernisation transition but also take our collective tourism standard of marketing to the next level in a post-COVID world,” said Williams.
Speaking during the online launch which took place under the theme Future Tourism: Rethinking Tourism and MSMEs in Times of COVID-19, regional representatives insisted that a collaborative regional approach was needed for recovery of the tourism sector.