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The right atmosphere

Bob Verdun

The right atmosphere

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Although I strongly support the principles under which the National Insurance Scheme is investing in the Four Seasons villas and hotel, there is one very substantial problem that must be solved if this investment is to be safe and productive.
The success of the Four Seasons project depends entirely upon convincing wealthy people that Barbados has the right atmosphere for a tropical holiday.   
Global travel is highly competitive and there are many places that the rich and famous can choose when they are spending more than US$2 000 000 to buy an apartment or more than US$1 000 a night for a hotel room.
Barbados already has a significant inventory of unsold condos on the West Coast. There is no certainty that sufficient buyers will pay the asking prices for all of the villas at Four Seasons or that the ultra-luxurious hotel will attract sufficient occupancy.
The issue is how foreigners perceive life in Barbados. Do they see, feel and hear a lifestyle of idyllic natural beauty – or has Barbados become a noisy urban jungle?
Make no mistake about this essential truth: Barbados has a very serious noise problem and the neighbourhood at the foot of Cave Hill suffers from the same clatter and commotion that burdens too much of Barbados.
The success or failure of the Four Seasons project will, to a large extent, determine the future of this island. Bajans must make up your collective minds as to whether you want to become a prosperous First World nation, or slide into a Third World backwater.
Noise pollution is one of the global measures of wealth and development. The more successful people become, the more they demand peace and quiet.   
More than 90 per cent of the tourists who sustain this nation’s economy are looking for security and serenity along with the sun, sea, and sand. That is true on every beach on this island.
Tourists come to savour God’s bounty on beaches where they can gaze out to sea and enjoy the soothing sound of the waves. If they want music, they will listen to their own choices by way of personal earphones.
They definitely do not want to listen to other people’s sound systems, motorcycles, or ice-cream vendors with their incessant “chimes”. The pulsating bass vibrations of excessive car and party sound systems are particularly annoying. Blaring party boats and pesky jet skis add to the cacophony.
If tourists can’t find unspoiled beach experiences in Barbados, they will spend their foreign exchange in other tropical destinations. International business operations are similarly at risk because the serenity of the local lifestyle is essential if we are to retain and attract these types of easily-moved foreigners’ offices.
The warning signs are already clear. Many of the super-rich have already decided in large numbers that they want to vacation on private islands where the only local people are strictly-controlled employees. The big risk faced by the Four Seasons project here is the fact that, for a similar investment, rich vacationers can have complete peace and protection in a personal enclave on a private island elsewhere.
Barbadians have far too many powerful sound systems – in cars, at bars and at fetes that can pop up anywhere – that can disturb people a mile away. Local retailers sell “DJ-style” sound systems for everyday home use with 2 000 watts of power: enough to drive away hundreds of tourists while making life miserable for their neighbours.
Such sound, as well as the noise of motorcycles and other vehicles including ice-cream vendors, penetrates everywhere in Barbados.
The problem is deep-seated. Bajans can be wonderfully friendly toward visitors but too many will defend to the point of rudeness and even violence their asserted right to make whatever noise they want. Indeed, I have been bluntly told on several occasions that no black Bajan will allow a white tourist to tell him he can’t make whatever noise he desires.
A collective commitment by the entire nation is required to change this attitude and end noise pollution.
Carl Moore has been waging a losing war to convince his fellow citizens to be good neighbours to each other. However, the Quieter Barbados he seeks for the benefit of all is absolutely essential for the nation’s economic future.
Ironically, the problem will solve itself if nothing is done – because noise-making equipment cannot be imported without the foreign exchange that tourists and international business operators bring here. And it is not only the sound equipment that will become difficult to import. Cars themselves will be prohibitively expensive if tourism dies.
It will be a long, slow, painful decline. Do we want the entire island to deteriorate like St Lawrence Gap? There, over the past 20 years, noise has driven a process that replaced the island’s best collection of affordable hotels and attractive restaurants with a mess of blaring bars that are of little interest to tourists whose primary interest is to enjoy the daylife of sun, sea, and sand.