WHAT MATTERS MOST – Time for truth
For the longest time, I was being encouraged to take a look at the tourist arrivals for Barbados. This is because there is a category of arrivals called “in transit passengers”, which is the predominant reason for the increase in arrivals for the period January to April this year.
First of all, a transit passenger is a passenger between flights: a passenger at an airport who is there simply to change flights and is therefore not required to go through customs or immigration formalities. According to this definition, a genuine “in transit passenger” would not be counted in a country’s tourist arrivals. However, there is such a category in Barbados’ tourist arrivals, which apparently has been around for some time.
According to my research, if someone arrives in Barbados to make an onward connection, then the person may be given a one-day stamp, which allows the individual to hang around but still leave within twenty-four hours. Strangely enough, a long-stay visitor is one who stays for more than twenty-four days.
Therefore an “in transit passenger” is a category of visitor who stays for one-day and does so at the discretion of the immigration official. In contrast, a cruise ship passenger is a visitor who comes in at the seaport; stays for less than twenty-four hours and so is not a long-stay visitor. The real issue is therefore the length of stay and 24 hours is a defining point.
As shown below, the inclusion of the “in transit passengers” in Barbados’ tourist arrivals – for the first four months of 2011 when compared to the same period of 2010 – suggests that the sector is heading the wrong direction.
It has been reported that tourist arrivals increased by 11.0 per cent for the period identified above and this translated into 21 027 more visitors.
It was not reported that “in transit passengers” accounted for 11 004 of the additional visitors.
If an “in transit passenger” is someone who stays here for twenty-four hours or less, then it should have been highlighted in the reporting that the growth in arrivals was mainly from such a source. This explains why the country’s foreign reserves performed so poorly notwithstanding the increase in tourist arrivals reported for the first four months of the year.
Figures do not tell lies! The total increase in tourist arrivals of 21 027, so far for the year, has come mainly from visitors who stay for one-day; they have accounted for 13 731 of the total increase. This is the kind of analysis that puts the performance in the tourism sector in its true context, and not simply the public relations context. Unfortunately, some of our once revered institutions have fallen into the political trap!
To reinforce the point about the importance of length of stay of the visitors, it must also be stated that tourists who stay for over three-weeks declined by 12 682 for the same period January to April. In the absence of a thorough analysis of each category of length of stay, it is not possible to reach a conclusion on the performance of total arrivals. However, such a shift in length of stay affected the sector’s earning capacity as reflected again in the country’s foreign reserves performance so far for the year.
I never took the quarterly foreign exchange earnings reported by the sector seriously and I still do not; you should not either.
What we know is that rooms were discounted for the winter season and, coupled with the reduced length of stay witnessed among the major source markets of the United Kingdom, United States and Canada, the sector did not enjoy the best of times despite the boast that the country enjoyed its best winter season.
It is time to refine the reporting on the tourism sector. The last winter season has revealed that figures do not lie, but the absence of figures fails to tell the truth. • Clyde Mascoll is an economist and Opposition Barbados Labour Party spokesman on the economy.
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