COVID-19, the most disruptive event in Barbados’ modern economic history, has also laid the foundation for desperately needed growth opportunities and technological investments in tourism, Minister of Tourism Senator Lisa Cummins has suggested.
She was joined Wednesday by past youth tourism ministers at a virtual youth forum which analysed the possible paths the industry can take to rebuild after the COVID-19 pandemic.
Senator Cummins said that the old ways of running the industry had to be changed with new and creative products needing to be developed and marketed widely on the world stage.
She said: “Historically, we have had a national conversation around how many planes are coming into Barbados, how full are they flying, what are the occupancy rates in our hotels, we have gone to all the travel conferences, and we have engaged with our travel partners, and that really has been the substance of a lot of our engagement in the tourism sector.
“Here comes COVID-19, and we actually grind to a screeching halt for the first time in history, and here is that disruptive event that forces us to look at new mechanisms and new products like the Welcome Stamp, and it also gave us the opportunity to deal with a couple of key things.”
Senator Cummins emphasized that though the disruption to the industry cannot be ignored, with several Barbadians losing their jobs, the industry, in particular those business start-ups run by the youth and women, need to be restructured with sustainability and investment in mind.
She said: “For me, the theme, Tourism for Inclusive Growth, does force us into a conversation that says the eight per cent for [Barbadian] ownership in the accommodation segment now needs to be expanded, and Barbadians and those persons with aspiring businesses, have to be given the opportunity for enfranchisement and for inclusion.
“It means that youth, who have typically sat at the table in some ways on the periphery for specific times, need to be included so that they have a structured voice in an ongoing conversation at all times.”
While citing the major contributions that such international brands as Sandals and the Hilton have made to the Barbadian tourism brand, the Minister of Tourism said the time is ripe for fresh expansion of their offerings to visitors, as accommodation is only a small percentage of what can support a sustainable industry.
She said: “How do we widen the scope for inclusion of more stakeholders, and for people to benefit more from this sector, how do we move the tourism sector beyond the enclave of a few, to a sector that benefits the majority at all levels of the community?
“How do we integrate Barbados as a tourism destination, into an economy that becomes the flagship for the business of tourism? “We now have to treat to the opportunities for expanded growth for jobs, expanded growth for linkages into the wider economy, and then the development initiatives that would have to go along with that.” (SB)