by Marlon Madden
Local tourism officials are eager to see greater connection between the industry and that of tertiary learning institutions. In fact, Chief Executive Officer of the Barbados Tourism Investment Inc. (BTII) Stuart Layne has expressed a need for that organisation to work closer with the University of the West Indies (UWI), Cave Hill Campus so that the industry could benefit from greater research and more targeted training.
Layne said he observed a lack of critical thinking and evidence-based decisions in the sector over the years and he believed a renewed partnership with the learning institution would help to correct that problem. Stuart said it was for this reason that he would be ensuring that the UWI become “a part of the research arm”
of the BTII to assist that organisation in helping to “move the industry forward”.
“The reason I am so interested in this is because countries that really progress substantially, have a complete linkage, there is a hand-in-hand movement between its education institution and its business activities,” he said.
“So research drives output and output drives research. Why that is important is because then people come out of the institutions employable and are able to get jobs immediately because they were expected. It is programmed. If there is a disconnect then we may have skill sets coming out that cannot be used because nobody asked for them. Ultimately it is a marketing challenge,” Layne explained.
He was a panellist on episode 3 of the Barbados Hotel and Tourism Association (BHTA) webinar series, recently held under the theme Barbados’ Tourism Development Model: Are We On The Right Path? Dr Sherma Roberts, Senior Lecturer in Tourism at the UWI, Cave Hill Campus, agreed there was a need for a closer partnership between the university and tourism industry stakeholders, pointing out that while she taught students so they could be absorbed by the industry or become entrepreneurs they often “bounce a wall when they go into an industry that does not want change”.
Responding to a question about how to build groups of more enthusiastic, compassionate and creative tourism professionals, Dr Roberts suggested that the challenge was often those already in the industry feeling threatened and therefore stifling the passion and creativity of those now entering.
She said there was need for a change in culture, explaining that in the hotel industry there were some who believed something was “wrong” with the students when they come with a high level of service excellence and enthusiasm.
“The culture pulls them right back down to mediocrity. So unless we have managers, owners and supervisors that see excellence as a standard and are not threatened by a graduate, don’t feel intimidated, and clear [key performance indicators] are set for them, then the industry will continue to go around and around because we do not appreciate that here is a new cadre of people who are thinking differently about the industry, who wants to solve a problem,” said Roberts.
“Are we ready for this new graduate who is coming out of the university and out of the community college? I want to suggest that maybe the industry is not because you have that anachronism that is operating; one generation feel they are backing another generation, rather than ‘how do we transfer knowledge, how do we increase and build capacity because this is the vision we are working towards,” she explained.
In fact, Roberts said the current situation was resulting in the creation of a “frustration gap”. “So you have an expectation, the students have an expectation and somewhere between there the twain isn’t meeting and so there is frustration. That does the industry no good and it does the potential student no good. So I really think there is a way we have to think about how do we bridge that gap and move beyond in our industry,” she said.