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Experts, mogul trade contrasting views of tourism’s future

by Marlon Madden
5 min read

Barbados needs “fresh thinking” to overcome complacency in tourism development even while chasing profits, industry experts have suggested, as they called for a plan to build back better from tourism’s worst-ever crisis.

They said over-tourism and “short-term gains for long-term pain” stand in the way of sustainable and inclusive tourism that focuses on individuals and the environment.

The industry figures appeared Thursday evening at a Barbados Hotel and Tourism Association (BHTA) webinar: Barbados’ Tourism Development Model: Are We On The Right Path?

Dr Kerry Hall, the former CEO of the Barbados Tourism Product Authority, said tourism development over the last several decades had not been properly planned, managed or controlled. She said the island had done “extremely well” in some areas, there was much room for improvement.

She said: “I believe this is the time for fresh thinking, innovative thinking in order for us to get to the next level.

“I look at the model as something that needs an injection, a shot in the arm right now especially if we are seeking to outperform our competitors as tourism restarts globally.”

Dr Hall said the island’s current tourism model of sun, sea and sand, was no longer relevant, explaining the industry is now more consumer-driven. She called for deeper linkages with other sectors and added value to benefit communities.

The former executive who is now an independent consultant called for “the proper policy framework and structure” that would insist on a year-round industry.

Dr Hall said she was also keen to see a critical qualitative analysis of the industry in which its progress is measured by yield, which includes visitor spend, as well as its social and environmental impact.

She called for a comprehensive, post-pandemic, tourism development plan to build a more competitive industry, developed with input from residents.

“As far as I can see, I don’t think right now there is a plan,” said Dr Hall, adding that there was currently too much focus on profit and revenue and very little focus on the impact of tourism development on residents and the environment.

“Right now there are a lot of people who feel marginalized, who feel that there is not a fair and equitable distribution of tourism revenue,” she said. “There are pockets of real upheaval and acidity in this country that we need to deal with. We only bring about change when people feel heard and understood, and I feel we need all hands on deck as we reemerge unto the global tourism scene and involving our people is one of the most effective things we can do right now.”

She also urged authorities to insist on green investment in new tourism projects using green technology and forbidding encroachment on the beach.

“We cannot take back the disruption of the past, but going forward if we are putting up new buildings on the coastline we have to put measures in place to protect this country for generations,” said Dr Hall.

Dr Sherma Roberts, Senior Lecturer in Tourism at the UWI Cave Hill chided authorities for failing to develop several tourism development plans they created over the years.

She recommended that climate change be a major factor in the industry’s future development, with a focus on a few niche areas by “definitive brand positioning”.

Said Dr Roberts: “When I say Las Vegas what do you think about, when I say New York what comes to mind? Those destinations have very definitive brand positioning. If I ask the question who or what is destination Barbados there is a resounding silence.”

But declaring his vision for Barbadian tourism will “upset a few people”, veteran hotelier Bernie Weatherhead made a case for more high-rise hotel buildings in order to better manage space.

Weatherhead, chairman of Sun Group Inc that combines hotel operations, transport, retail and tours, said the benefits of high-rise hotels would far outweigh the concerns.

He said: “The few that get upset about it are going to be heard the loudest, but the number of staff that will be working in that property and selling to that property and renting cars to that property and driving taxis from that property are going to totally out-number the voices that have a problem. The problem is that you are changing the island’s look. One has to ask ‘is this a bad thing?’ I think there is more gain to that model of tourism than there is negativity.”

But concerns about high rise hotel properties along the coastlines were genuine, said  Stuart Layne, chief executive of the Barbados Tourism Investment Inc. (BTII) He agreed on the need to better “optimise the land space without violating the environment” adding that “everything is taken into consideration” when it came to development planning.

Stuart said: “It is a very delicate balancing act and when properties are going to be built there is a credible amount of environmental impact studies that have to be done in Barbados under our laws that would then allow the Town Planning department to make a sensible decision and usually there are public hearings, so where there are concerns you go into those public hearings and share those concerns and I know they are taken into account.”

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