Tourism and international business: symbiotic and interdependent
In spite of its relatively small size, and in the context of an unpredictably turbulent world economy that moves from boom to bust almost overnight, Barbados has been and remains a great place to visit, live, work and do business. And it can be done in that order – visit, live, work and do business.
The most easterly of the Caribbean islands, Tourism in Barbados began in the 1600s, an era when London-based businessmen and their associates travelled to the islands of the West Indies to review the progress of their business enterprises that consisted primarily of the production of tobacco, sugar and rum for export to the UK and continental Europe.
Barbados quickly became renowned as a place that yielded excellent returns on investments in the agricultural industry. The island also became known as a place that offered a therapeutic climate featuring fresh, steady north-easterly trade winds blowing across the island and crystal-clear sea water lapping powdery, white sand beaches that together facilitated the healing of many of the illnesses afflicting Europeans at the time.
It is no wonder then that the earliest hotels sprung up in the capital city of Bridgetown, the gateway for international travellers and traders to and from Barbados and the islands of the Eastern Caribbean (then known as the Windward and Leeward islands).
Thus was born the earliest linkages between Tourism and International Business in Barbados.
In the modern context the linkage takes on an interesting flavour. Still recognized as the gateway to the Caribbean, the comparatively flat island of Barbados has gained an enviable reputation as a country with an educated population of friendly people, a relatively high standard of living, a high quality working infrastructure that is part of a stable political, social and economic system, and a government and judiciary that works efficiently without the levels of corruption found in some other places in the world.
Over the years the island has attracted business, political and other leaders who use the island as a getaway – taking their thoughts away from the pressing matters of business or state – to recharge their batteries for facing the challenges before them. Barbados earned the reputation of being a playground for the wealthy elites of the United Kingdom and the United States.
As these visitors increased in number, local entrepreneurs recognized the need to provide services. Restaurants and bars were needed; nightlife and entertainment was required; there was the desire to explore the fields and hills of the island; direct tourism service businesses sprung up to cater to these growing needs.
As Barbados became an aspirational destination, and persons other than wealthy elites visited, less ostentatious accommodation facilities were developed to fit the financial abilities of these new travellers. Along the south coast guest-houses were built and residences were converted into apartment hotels in order to provide rooms at a more affordable price.
Barbados’ enviable reputation as a quality location has allowed it to successfully stage many world-class events; including the World Golf Championship in 2006, the ICC Cricket World Cup in 2007, the ICC T-20 Cricket finals in 2010, the Sentebale Polo Cup in 2010 featuring Prince Harry of the United Kingdom and the Rihanna 2011 LOUD concert.
Numerous regional championships have also been held in Barbados in sporting disciplines ranging from track and field to volleyball to swimming.
Tourism’s natural and historic linkage with International Business will be enhanced with the revived policy focus on sports tourism, particularly motor sports. A developed Formula Three standard Bushy Park facility will allow Barbados to become the focal point of motor racing in the Caribbean.
The active seeking out of opportunities to utilize the magnificent cricketing ‘mecca’, Kensington Oval (where the Rihanna LOUD concert was held), will also enhance the sports tourism emphasis.
Barbados has existing partnerships with two NBA teams – the Miami Heat and the Dallas Mavericks (2011 NBA Champions). The island has recently entered a relationship with the Chelsea Football Club of English Premier League fame. These partnerships with huge, internationally known sporting organizations have the potential to bring teams to Barbados for preseason training as well as for exhibition matches. They also have the potential to bring high-level business meetings to the island.
Health Tourism is another natural fit with International Business. Just like Direct Tourism service providers developed with the increasing number of visitors, health tourism will also develop. High net-worth individuals demand the highest quality health care and Barbados has seen as least one well known physician set up his medical facility on the island. Others are in the planning stages.
There are a growing number of stories of persons who came to Barbados on holiday, visiting a beautiful, laid-back country to get much needed rest and relaxation, and who decided to live either full-time or part-time in Barbados and lead their business enterprises from the island.
There are many other business owners for whom the tax treaties and levels of taxation for offshore businesses have added to the previously mentioned attractions to make a compelling case to set up business in Barbados. The directors of these companies visit the island at least annually and they often bring their families with them. They stay in hotels or villas, shop, play golf, enjoy water activities, and generally contribute to the Tourism industry of the country.
Tourism and international business are self-perpetuating and mutually beneficial – they sustain each other very well with international investors and business executives who are very happy to visit Barbados for business or pleasure with their families because of the wonderful tourism-oriented facilities that abound here. And our tourism plant has grown in quality and expanded significantly as a direct result of those discerning, high net-worth business visitors.
There is no doubt that many international business people are more than happy to do business and/or live here because they enjoy life in the island. Those same international business people and their wives and children are excellent customers for the country’s tourism related businesses: a real win-win for Tourism, International Business and for Barbados.
The Eastern Caribbean home of many agencies including the Caribbean Development Bank, Embassies and High Commissions, and various United Nations bodies, Barbados stands out as a country respected and trusted by regional and international bodies and large, developed countries. Small wonder then that Tourism and International Business, Barbados’ two main economic drivers, interconnected as they continue to be, are expected to sustain the local economy into the foreseeable future.
• Colin Jordan is president of the Barbados Hotel & Tourism Association, Director of Business Development at Mango Bay Group.