Concerns are being raised that there are still too many micro, small and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs) in Barbados and the rest of the Caribbean that are unable to process online transactions, limiting their ability to benefit more from the tourism sector.
In addition, some of the region’s development partners are calling for greater focus on community-based tourism so that more of the region’s residents can share in the economic activities of the sector.
The issues came up for discussion recently during the fourth in a series of regional dialogues hosted by the UNDP Barbados and the Eastern Caribbean office under the theme Future Tourism: An Inclusive Value Chain.
Valerie Cliff, UNDP Resident Representative for Barbados and the Eastern Caribbean, said she believed the UNDP and other institutions can do more to help the region’s MSMEs connect to sustainable tourism market opportunities.
“First, we need to help MSMEs build an online presence,” said Cliff, who said it sometimes takes months for visitors to find some of the region’s hidden culinary, craft and other gems.
“Helping MSMEs get online and use the digital resources available is a top priority. Secondly, we need to help MSMEs to tell their stories. Visitors want to know more about the entrepreneur, the characteristics of their products or services,” she said.
Pointing to a 2019 consumer research funded by Compete Caribbean, she also noted that MSMEs should take advantage of the fact that the majority of US visitors were willing to pay more for some products and services if they know a good portion of the price is going back to the local community or if a product is locally sourced or sustainable environmental practices are used.
Highlighting the one-year-old Future of Tourism (FUT-Tourism) UNDP regional project aimed at boosting recovery and supporting the digital enabled transformation of business processes and value chains of MSMEs linked to the tourism sector, Cliff said it will also provide critical training and grant funding for the MSMEs.
She said close to 1,000 applications were received in a five-week window and about two-thirds of those applicants were still unable to process online payments.
“That is a major area we need to support them with,” she said.
“We must help MSMEs connect with financial technology and financial institutions to increase digital payment and minimize sales friction,” said Cliff.
Meanwhile, Neil Walters, acting Secretary General of the Caribbean Tourism Organisation (CTO), said one of his organisation’s strategic priorities was to help diversify the regional tourism landscape by fostering a development and promotion of experiences that ensure equitable, inclusive and sustainable access to tourism assets and markets.
He said growth in the sector has not always resulted in widespread economic benefits for local communities, especially rural and coastal communities and that the region’s MSMEs were also hampered from fully accessing the tourism market.
This, he said, was due to insufficient sectoral linkages, and slow rate of technological adaptation, which reduces their visibility, access to visitor markets and the use of digital payments.
“The latter has become especially important now as we focus on a touchless, non-cash payment system,” said Walters.
He said the CTO has been helping to address some of those issues over the past couple years through partnerships with various organisations to help build capacity and enable technology adoption within MSMEs, and carry out market research.
“The next phase of the partnership will support the implementation of three CBT (community-based tourism) cluster projects stemming from a regional call for proposals,” he said, adding that projects have already been selected in The Bahamas, Belize and Dominica.
Walters said as the region seeks to revitalise its tourism sector, relevant policy directives and community engagement must take place with the acknowledgement that women play a key role in community-based tourism enterprises.
He said while many destinations have already started some form of community-based activity, there was need for a strong focus on health and safety through the development of relevant guidelines and standards for product and service quality to ensure market readiness. (MM)