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TOURISM MATTERS: Critical policy decisions necessary

Adrian Loveridge

TOURISM MATTERS: Critical policy decisions necessary

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I FREQUENTLY?WONDER whether we as a destination have become overly dependent on tour operators to fill the rooms of our accommodation providers.
Of course, it’s a balance.
Large room allocations to tour companies that may also be vertically integrated with airlines and even travel agents help protect airlift.
Have any detailed studies been undertaken to evaluate the net differential financial value that stays within Barbados, comparing direct bookings and those generated through the travel trade?
Should we be looking more at taking full advantage of social media and the Internet to drive a higher percentage of published price business?
What prompted these thoughts at this time was an anonymous person, posting on one of more popular blogs,  queried the overall contribution of our small hotel when compared to a much larger property of 227 rooms.
Less than five per cent of our occupied room nights are sold below published rack rate and all the revenue is banked in Barbados. Proportionally, even with our small staff, we employ 65 per cent more persons per room than the quoted around 200 employed by the larger hotel.
In fairness, many other factors have to be brought into any other comparison.
If in any way our establishment is typical of the 120-plus other registered hotels that are also classified as small, don’t you think our tourism planners would include them in their overall marketing and promotional activities?
So far it would seem the measures taken by Government to safeguard employment in tourism have largely worked and job losses have been relatively limited.  
I can only think of one hotel which had 130 rooms that has closed over the last year, with well over one hundred people placed on the breadline despite receiving monies from the Tourism Industry Relief Fund.
During the recent series of town hall meetings convened to garner the thoughts and suggestions on a planned Ministry of Tourism White Paper, the subject of better research was raised on at least two occasions.
And it seems to me that at no time has this element become more critical to our planning in this industry if we are going to minimize any ongoing detrimental effect to the economy and employment.
It also puzzles me that just about everyone from the president of the United States to the financial experts in Barbados and around the world largely concluded that recovery will eventually come mostly as a result of small businesses expanding and each taking on one or two more staff.
Why then would our planners not think this also applies to tourism?  
Perhaps they cannot take the necessary critical policy decisions simply because conclusive historic data doesn’t exist due to lack of research.
Are we continuing to second-guess what is frequently referred to as our number one industry, and would it not be better to stop and take a closer look at what exactly drives tourism?