Tourism stakeholders have engaged at least three government ministries to address a shortage of workers in the industry.
Chief executive officer of the Barbados Hotel and Tourism Association (BHTA) Rudy Grant on Monday confirmed that many of the tourism workers laid off at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic had not returned to the industry.
Grant added that an offer of up to 1,000 jobs from the world’s second largest cruise line operator, Royal Caribbean Group, would make an already lean market even tougher.
“The reality is that I think workers would have been looking to see and to ensure regardless of the things that were happening, that they would still be able to survive. So it wasn’t surprising in an environment that is still very fluid and with the sector that has been impacted the most that you are seeing people looking at other opportunities,” Grant told reporters.
“Further, you have situations where you had RCL, for example, that is now looking to recruit Barbadian workers to work on their cruise lines and I think individuals will be looking at opportunities, particularly in an environment where, because of COVID and because of the war that is taking place, you are seeing the supply chain impacted, not only with respect to the goods and in getting the supply of the goods, but also with respect to the fact that prices are going up. I think people are going to look at their individual circumstances and determine how they will go forward,” the BHTA executive added.
Based on the volume of tourism enterprises expressing concern about the labour shortage, Grant said the shortfall was not a large percentage but is high enough to “cause us to focus and pay some attention”.
“We talk a lot about the industry, we talk a lot about occupancy, we talk about visitor arrival numbers, we talk about the attractions. The reality is that the sustainable development of this industry really depends in a significant manner on the workers,” Grant declared.
“The workers are critical, the workers are important to the future growth and development of this industry and we have to ensure that we have the adequate skills and the adequate personnel to continue to facilitate the development of this industry and therefore we are going to be having those discussions to speak to this issue,” he added.
He said the association is compiling data from tourism bosses to get a more detailed understanding of the problems and about the main areas where the void of workers exists.
“We have had preliminary discussions with the Minister of Tourism as well as the Minister of Education. Our expectation is that we will soon have the relevant stakeholders including the Ministry of Labour to discuss this issue and determine how best we can go forward,” said Grant.
In the early stages of the COVID pandemic, scores of workers were laid off as the tourism industry came to a halt. In some cases, tourism workers protested the conditions under which they were severed and took bosses to task for failing to honour some of their financial obligations.
On the other hand, the Barbados Employment and Sustainable Transformation programme assisted tourism stakeholders with keeping their businesses operating despite the absence of visitors.
In the meantime, the BHTA CEO expressed confidence that stakeholders from the public and private sector would put their heads together and find a solution, as tourism continued to be the country’s main economic driver.
“What we have to do is ensure that we are able to secure this industry and that we are able to ensure that we secure one of the most important and critical resource aspects and that relates to the workers,” stressed Grant.