Thursday, February 29, 2024

Whither our tourism?


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WE ARE PINNING major hopes on tourism but is there a clear vision for the way forward? There’s a White Paper and a Master Plan, but what about implementation?
Isn’t it strange that other Caribbean countries, many less experienced than Barbados, haven’t apparently seen the downturn that we have in the last few months?
Marketing is important to keep Barbados in the public eye, but how are the Barbados Tourism Authority’s (BTA’s) millions really being spent? Is it on effective marketing or mostly on administrative costs? We need to know.
Can’t we reduce costs by involving locals living as far afield as Dubai in marketing Barbados? Couldn’t the local Indian population be encouraged to promote Barbados through their contacts in India?
Good service, genuine friendliness and a safe environment contribute significantly toward counteracting our high costs and bringing “free promotion” via word of mouth.  This is my experience over the last 14 years when my brother has provided over 200 bed nights and more recently about 500 bed nights annually out of Canada. Many who started with a one-week visit are now staying four weeks and every year there are new faces who have heard from the regulars. But they are treated well – like family and not like ATM machines. Multiply this effort by the numbers in the diaspora and the effect would be considerable.
Has any assessment been done to establish the percentage of visitors coming through promotion by the diaspora versus the percentage via other BTA promotions?
Safety is a concern. We’re still one of the safest destinations, but crime must be addressed. Poor service, starting with immigration, must be dealt with, not only “looked at” as is our wont.
More of the tourist dollar must stay in the island. The tourism-agriculture linkage is preached but certainly not practised. It won’t just happen. There must be a structured approach because, in my opinion, the tourism industry buys local under duress. Tourism incentives should be linked to proof of a certain percentage of local purchases.
We talk about a “Barbados brand” aimed at the high-end market. Why can’t we cater also to other market segments? Are these high-enders in danger of contracting a virus from the others? In any case, do we have enough high-end properties to target this market exclusively?
We must diversify and increase our attractions. Some visitors who usually stay six months are now staying three because there’s not enough to do. We have a rich heritage and we should use it to our advantage. There’s been some progress but we must move more quickly.
Likewise with sports, gospel, conference, faith-based, eco- and agro-tourism. The private sector must invest, but Government must encourage and assist rather than constrain. Why did a local investor have to wait eight years for an answer from a Government institution regarding leasing an area for an attraction, eventually to be offered ridiculous terms?
Why is the Graeme Hall Sanctuary, a prime attraction, still closed? Are local tour companies doing their best to promote our sites and are the arrangements with site owners always equitable?
Some BTA or Barbados Tourism Investment Inc. funds would be well spent assisting those already making an effort. For instance, the Springvale Museum with its wonderful collection of heritage items could be upgraded to make it more attractive and comfortable and expanded to include nature trails through the adjoining forested areas.
University of the West Indies must be congratulated on its work with turtles, which have become a major tourism attraction, as well as its investigations into the pollution of the marine environment.
The Bridgetown Revitalization Project, including work on the Constitution River, is also a positive initiative.
• Dr Frances Chandler is a former Independent senator. Email


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