Tuesday, April 16, 2024

TOURISM MATTERS: Need to regulate unlicensed properties

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From a tourism marketing perspective, there are two expressions or mission statements that I have come to detest.
They are “paradigm shift” and “thinking outside the box”.
It’s not the words themselves, but more the people who tend to use  these sayings frequently.
Because in hindsight, what at the time seems almost an imperative to implement change inevitability becomes the last thing on their minds.
Most people consider tourism a dynamic industry which is subject to frequent change and almost perpetual challenges.
So it would be unreasonable to think that we could keep doing things the same old way and achieve different results, surely.
Many industry players over the years have expressed that there should be changes in the way we market Barbados, including the last president of the Barbados Hotel and Tourism Association.
Marketing team
Wayne Capaldi, former head of the Barbados Hotel and Tourism Association, suggested a hybrid private/public sector team dedicated to marketing the destination.
Clearly, no one has more vested interest in seeing both increases in long-stay visitor arrivals and, importantly, the average overall spending, than the tourism stakeholders.
Perhaps a greater degree of private sector involvement is desirable, with some form of inbuilt checks and balances to ensure all sub-sectors are fairly represented.
A National Tourism Marketing Committee involving both sectors has been tried before, but it was quickly disbanded before any proper analysis could be made of its effectiveness.
I also think it’s time to revisit the mandate of the Barbados Tourism Authority (BTA) to see if in a changing world, it is still fulfilling its stated objectives.
The only mandate that I can access on the Internet is a document called Chapter 342 – L.R.O 1997.
Section 25 (1) states: “No person shall operate any tourist accommodation unless that person first applies for and obtains a licence issued in accordance with the regulations.”
Yet scores and probably hundreds of accommodation providers do operate without a licence.
Unsure of stock
How can all-embracing and effective marketing strategies be implemented when we have no real idea of what our room stock comprises?
Are we also missing further opportunities here?
For instance, do these unlicensed properties pay VAT, have current public liability insurance, health or fire certificates?
Do they contribute in any way to the marketing costs of promoting the destination?
I have queried the lack of regulation several times before, but the response has always been that the BTA does not have the resources to monitor and enforce this aspect of its mandate.
This I find surprising from an organisation that employs around 130 people and has an annual budget that almost $100 million.
Perhaps if this really is the problem, then accommodation registration and licensing should be farmed out to a commercial entity that can recoup the costs through a fee.
Or alternatively, if it remains in its present structure, allow the BTA to concentrate on marketing the destination and transfer licensing to the Ministry of Tourism.  
One thing for sure, if an unlicensed 100-room hotel sprung up on the West Coast, it would become front page news and we would hear a lot more squeals of protest from the policymakers.

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