Major wins in tourism arrivals and tourist spending are exactly what our economy needs as the important winter tourist season, starting in mid-December, approaches.
All the statistics and research suggest the country’s dependence on tourism has not diminished, even as efforts continue to diversify the economy.
The experience of the pandemic years continues to reinforce the need for our economy to have more than one leg to stand on were there to be another economic shock.
Our aim is not to shock readers but to prepare them, for without fail, another big economic shock or crisis is around the corner. We faced it during the 1970s oil crisis, which was triggered when the Organisation of Arab Petroleum Exporting Countries (OAPEC) retaliated with an oil embargo against the United States and the Netherlands who were Israel’s main supporters at the time of the Yom Kippur War in 1973.
When the United States sneezes, it is not long before we in the region are infected with the cold. Another major global crisis of more recent vintage that upended our economy was the “Global Financial Crisis” which exploded in 2007-2008.
What began with the collapse of two Bear Stearns hedge funds in the United States after that country’s housing bubble burst, left many financial institutions holding trillions of dollars worth of near-worthless investments in subprime mortgages.
The contagion in the American financial system spread and before the rest of the world could insulate itself, global markets and economies were caught in the violent vortex.
For us in the Caribbean and Barbados in particular, it took us almost a decade to wrestle ourselves back to some kind of economic normalcy.
A new government was elected with a new economic revival plan in 2018. The downgrades were being reversed, sovereign debt was rescheduled, and a massive “We Gatherin” tourism plan was being unveiled. Then out of nowhere the global COVID-19 pandemic blew up.
We take this dive back into the history of crises to demonstrate that our ability to protect ourselves from such occurrences is near impossible.
Many of the actions taken by the current administration to strengthen the Barbados economy were necessary. We were on the brink with less than a month’s worth of foreign reserves to cover imports and the only borrowing available to us after a series of downgrades was from institutions that demanded near extortion interest rates.
The pandemic and the conditions it created meant that increased borrowing was a necessity. However, it is understandable the concerns being expressed about the level of foreign borrowing the country has done and our ability to create the kind of economic activity that safely allows us to repay our debts and undertake the kind of development our citizens expect and demand.
In these circumstances, reports from our Minister of Tourism and International Transport Ian Gooding-Edghill that the sector’s rebound is continuing is the kind of information that boosts the confidence of Barbadians, foreign and local investors, and of course our lenders.
Speaking over the weekend at a church service to mark World Tourism Day, the Minister revealed that for the first eight months of this year more visitors flew to Barbados than for the same period last year, as airlift to the country expands.
“We in the ministry are so grateful for the demonstrated fact that our tourism industry continues to rebound. This is shown by the fact that visitor arrivals for the period January to August 2023 increased by 15 per cent compared to the same period last year, rising from 351 660 to 405 325 for 2023,” he outlined.
With the planned opening of the Wyndham Grand Resort at Sam Lord’s Castle, newer and fresher accommodation will be on the market.
In the midst of the celebration, though, there still remains the need for an urgent investigation into the treatment of tourism sector workers and a canvassing of workers attitudes towards the sector as well as their level of job satisfaction. We suspect this is an area that the Ministry and its experts ought to pay close attention to as it is an open vulnerability to the sector’s growth and success.