GUEST COLUMN: ‘Beach bums’ and tourism
by WYNSLO PHILLIPSIN RECENT weeks there has been a number of published comments and complaints about beach vendors and so-called “beach bums”. Being a beach vendor myself for the past 20 years, what I have noticed is that whenever there is a downturn in the local hotel industry these complaints tend to appear. Beach vendors and “beach bums” seem to be an easy target or scapegoat for the economic woes of hotels and Barbadians in general. The hotels have demonised beach vendors (and “beach bums”) as the biggest threat to the economic stability and welfare of Barbados.Sir, I will state that today, as compared to 20 years ago, there has been a significant reduction in the number of beach vendors (and “beach bums”). Of course, many vendors have retired, but many others have left because of reduced economic opportunities. The face of Barbadian tourism has changed, from mainly hotel accommodation to a mix of hotels, condominiums, rental villas, and short-term apartments, with many new homes today being built with at least two apartments for visitor rentals added in. With the last mentioned, I believe this is a source of tax income the Government is missing in a big way.One can hardly make a living today from placing a stall on the beach in front of a hotel and peddling costume jewellery, beach wraps and hair braiding. Being an unlicensed itinerant beach vendor is an even more dire situation. In the Dover-Maxwell Beach area, where I ply my trade as a beach artist, there is only one licensed vendor – a hair braider, remaining on the entire Dover Beach. On Maxwell beach, Turtle Beach Resort has only two of five licensed vendors remaining. Almond Casuarina also has five licensed vendors. Two are there full-time and a third drops in occasionally. The other two have disappeared. The vendors at Bougainvillaea Resort certainly do not appear every day. And, very rarely do you see a vendor on the beach at Barbados Beach Club. The few itinerant vendors always have to keep a sharp eye out for the police and NCC rangers.On the question of beach bums, there may not be many Barbadians who will acknowledge it, but they play a very important part in the local tourism industry and perhaps in the economy in general. One prominent South Coast hotelier, well known for his tirades against beach vendors, was himself a beach vendor and could be described as a beach bum. That is how he met his wife, who financed the purchase of his hotel. Without that coming together, that source of investment would most likely have ended up elsewhere.I know two restaurateurs and a prominent realtor, who married “beach bums”, and the island is much better off because of these happy occurrences. Millions of dollars in real estate purchases, and the accompanying economic development, have flowed into the island’s economy because of this meeting of wealthy visitors and “beach bums”. This is not to mention direct cash payments (or gifts) which any economist will tell you are more beneficial to the wider economy than any other form of national income.There are many beach-side bars, car rental operators, small hotels, apartments and short-term rental house owners who economically depend on recommendations from “beach bums”. What would the Oistins Bay Gardens be without the positive referrals from this little appreciated class of Barbadians. The NCC head, Keith Neblett, along with calling for a renewed battle against beach bums, also mentioned the matter of beach littering. I can say that the NCC has not provided a single garbage can on either Dover or Maxwell Beach for public use. Perhaps, Neblett should leave his office occasionally and get some sand on his shoes and see what really happens on the beach.