Wednesday, April 17, 2024

EDITORIAL: Tourism: A game a must

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EVERY SO OFTEN something happens, good or bad, that causes us to sit up and take stock. We believe Wednesday’s official announcement that first quarter tourism arrivals to Barbados this year were at a record high should be one such moment.

Instinctively, we believe the whole country knew, based on the number of tourists on our beaches, the heavy presence of guests at “watering holes” such as the Oistins Bay Garden, and the almost always busy attractions, that the year started well.

What would not have been so obvious though would have been the fact that it was the best first quarter on record for 25 years. That’s not an achievement to be scoffed at. We also believe that in all fairness it is not an achievement that should be noted without offering some credit to Minister of Tourism Richard Sealy, the officials of the Barbados Tourism Marketing Inc (BTMI) and its predecessor the Barbados Tourism Authority, as well as the membership of the Barbados Hotel and Tourism Association (BHTA). After all, when we recorded declines there was no hesitation in laying the blame, fairly or unfairly, squarely at the feet of these people.

But what does all this have to do with taking stock? Barbados has been going through a bad economic patch for an extended period, and there is general agreement that tourism will have to be a primary driver in getting us out of it.                   However, too often too many of us act as though the success of tourism is entirely dependent on the actions of persons at the BTMI, BHTA and similar “official” organs, and somehow manage to divorce ourselves from the effort. We want to reap the rewards but we don’t want to contribute to the preparatory tasks.

Unless we change this approach and return to our roots, getting back to the top of Caribbean tourism, and staying there, will become harder and harder. We take careful note of the statement of BTMI chairman Alvin Jemmott attributing much of the success of the sector during the first three months to improved airlift from Canada, the United States and United Kingdom in particular.

Mr Jemmott is a successful veteran of the industry and known in the business community to be a man of integrity. We have no reason to doubt him, but we know that while the airlines may bring in tourists by the tens of thousands, if we are not at the top of our game when it comes to all the aspects of being good hosts, fewer and fewer will return.

Keeping the numbers up in a world of strong competition will require finding new tourists each year, and that’s where we believe the job of the marketers will become even more difficult. What we need to ensure is that every Barbadian makes our guests feel at home – so much so that they will want to return. For decades this was a pillar of our success in tourism.

We need to keep our island clean, our roads in good order and our beaches safe and inviting; our restaurants and attractions have to operate with high standards; the uniqueness of our culture needs to be presented; and the politeness that used to be synonymous with being Bajan must again come to the fore.

We have to stop bashing people, foreign and local, who invest in tourism and make a profit, because their success in most instances will translate into national success. There is no profit for us in making investors feel as though they are committing some unspeakable crime every time they announce a new project.

A return to the tenets that caused our tourism to flourish in the past will guarantee us many more seasons of boasting.

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