by Marlon Madden
Tourism officials are being warned that now is the time to “hunker down” and carry out a serious evaluation of the tourism industry and take a more strategic approach in understanding and better catering to travellers.
Dr Sherma Roberts, Senior Lecturer in Tourism at the University of the West Indies (UWI), Cave Hill Campus, issued the word of caution recently as she questioned the failure of authorities to implement recommendations from several reports on the industry over the years.
“There is more than an implementation deficit, not only in Barbados but in the region. There is a monitoring and evaluation deficit.
So we do not know how far we are progressing because we have not developed any matrix. So how far did we get between 2001 when there was a Green Paper and 2012 when there was a White Paper?” said Roberts.
She was a panellist on episode three of the Barbados Hotel and Tourism Association (BHTA) webinar series, which was held under the theme Barbados’ Tourism Development Model: Are We On The Right Path?
Pointing out that the White Paper, which was prepared by former tourism executive Dr Kerry Hall, provided some “significant detail centering sustainability, inclusiveness and partnership”, Roberts questioned why the recommendations were not implemented.
What is more, she highlighted the Tourism Master Plan 2014-2023, saying “it is about to go the way of all flesh” despite it providing “the impetus to say how do we translate sustainability into competitiveness”.
“There is another regional document that Barbados has spoken to which is the Caribbean Tourism Organisation’s Caribbean [Sustainable] Tourism Policy] Framework.
It pivots on six pillars – management; transportation; marketing policy; (environment; linkages to other economic sectors; and health, safety and security issues and tourism).
“If we have been part of that conversation in terms of developing that document we need to, again, go back and say ‘how well are we doing against what we have agreed to?’ And I am sure there are other documents,” said Roberts.
She argued that while the country had significantly improved in some areas of competitiveness it also “significantly regressed” in some areas.
“Those are some of the things we need to think about as we ask the question ‘are we on the right path’, because in the future the consumer is not going to wait for us to be on the right path, we are going to see in the wake of this pandemic, something I have decided to call ‘travel hedonism’ – people will just want to get out of their geography and travel.
Are we ready for that consumer and what that consumer might be looking for in terms of taste and preferences, the need to reconnect with kin and kind?” she said.
She said Barbados also seemed to be overlooking the importance of the diaspora market with the belief that Barbadians living overseas did not stay in hotels when they visit.
However, pointing out that second generation travellers were not keen on staying with family members, Roberts indicated that they were more willing to spend to use “tourism facilities”, visit attractions, rent cars and take part in other tourism related activities.
“We need to begin to think about all those segments in the market that might be potential low-hanging fruits. So the consumer isn’t going to wait for us,” she warned.
Adding that the sharing economy was set to “explode because the consumer is looking for value”, the senior tourism lecturer said she foresaw villas being more in demand in months and years ahead.
“So even as we think we are on the right path, we have to be thinking ahead. So monitor and evaluate but think ahead. The competition is not going to wait until we are on
‘the right path’.
So as we ask that question some significant auditing has to be done in terms of how far have we gone actualising the White Paper, the Tourism Master Plan, and then we push forward from there,” she suggested.
“We have a path [and] we have some documents that I have outlined that Barbados has to sit down, hunker down, and say ‘where have we gotten as far as the articulation of these documents are concerned’. That is an important starting point. We can’t just start anywhere because then we are going to be lost in the forest.
“So look at where have we gotten and then take a strategic approach in terms of what are the next steps and you take that approach understanding the consumer, the destination, the need for further digitisation, understanding that climate change is a Trojan horse, so all of those trends that are glaring you have to begin to strategise in terms of how do you overcome and achieve your goals,” she explained.
At the same time, Roberts said authorities should be clear about what kind of destination they wanted Barbados to be and what niche areas to focus on, adding that “unless we answer that question then all of our strategising will be certainly in vain”.