Officials of the Barbados Hotel and Tourism Association (BHTA) are worried that the crime situation and the continued lack of ease in doing business are among the problems that could easily hamper the chances of a full resuscitation of the tourism industry.
Chairman of the BHTA Renée Coppin has therefore called on authorities to take urgent steps “to get on top of the challenges that are within our control”, as she highlighted that the industry was also facing threats from the impact of extra-regional issues such as geopolitical instability, the war in Ukraine, fluctuating currencies and rising inflation.
Speaking at a BHTA press conference at the Courtyard by Marriott on Thursday, she said while the level of crime against tourists continued to be minuscule, the growing “intrusion” of criminal elements into communities across the island was a concern for industry operators.
“We caution against any approach that suggests that we should not be concerned because these incidents are targeted and any narrative that reduces the participants to less than the brothers, sons and fathers they are. One of the recent victims was a former employee of mine. His mother also worked with me. People who know the senseless loss to mindless acts of violence know that we have a responsibility to stand up because there are more of us that stand for what is right than for what is wrong,” declared the BHTA official.
Describing gun crime as a complex issue, she said the current situation was untenable.
“We in the BHTA are committed to providing support in whatever ways we can to bring improvement to this current trend. We recognise and support the opinion of the Chair of the Barbados Private Sector Association Trisha Tannis that this requires a whole-of-society approach,” said Coppin.
“Our stance from a tourism perspective is no different than it should be from any right-thinking member of the society. The situation is unacceptable, it is untenable and we will not go quietly in surrendering to these antisocial elements in our society. Like all other Barbadians who have a vested interest in this island, we will use whatever resources we can bring to bear to the situation.”
So far this year, there have been 39 murders, 30 of which were gun-related. There has also been a spike in gunplay in recent weeks.
“This is not a linear problem and it does not have a linear solution. We realise that there are crimes that are opportunistic in nature and that we can reduce them by reducing the opportunities for them to take place,” Coppin said.
She said the BHTA continued to work closely with law enforcement officials to enhance member awareness, security systems, crime-fighting methods and support national initiatives.
Meanwhile, citing a study based on the ease of doing business in Barbados between 2012 and 2019, Coppin said the country had regressed in some areas.
“In too many ways we are going in the wrong direction and I am therefore calling on those who can make changes to do so,” she said.
Contending that the required adjustments were neither radical nor difficult, Coppin said “they just require the simple acceptance that what we are doing is suboptimal and has not worked for us for some time”.
She singled out the continued delay in the operationalisation of a new system to allow tourism industry operators to access concessions under the Tourism Development (Amendment) Act as one example where improvement was required.
The BHTA chairman complained that despite a Tourism Development Act being in place since 2014 and subsequent amendments being made, industry operators were “still fighting to have it functioning as intended”.
“We cannot only offer sweeping concessions and facilitation to large, often foreign investors. We must also reward those local players who have made and continue to make investments in this industry and this island. There must be a balance of players and interests if the industry is to perform optimally,” she contended.
Coppin also pointed to operational inefficiencies such as “a poorly functioning” online embarkation-disembarkation card and outdated protocol information which needed to be addressed, as well as the length of time airline passengers have to wait for luggage after clearing immigration.
“We must not allow our clients to be frustrated by operational inefficiencies,” she said.
Tourism officials have cited reduced airlift capacity as a major factor in the loss of market share during the summer period.
In relation to maintaining the cleanliness of the environment, Coppin said this was an area in which residents were falling short.
“As a Bajan, I will say we keep this place real nasty. We need to take greater responsibility as Barbadians for this basic and fundamental action. Too many of our spaces, including our schools and our communities, are filled with litter . . . . We need to clean up our act,” she said.