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TOURISM MATTERS: Restore spirit of small business

Adrian Loveridge

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MANY READERS WILL already know that our small hotel is currently closed and up for sale. Our efforts during the summer will be concentrated on maintaining the property to the highest level and devoting the time to hopefully ensure the reputation we have collectively achieved over the last quarter of a century is passed on to new owners.  
Even in these challenging times there has been an encouraging amount of interest to view and possibly purchase.
What has really surprised me, though, is that all but one of the potential buyers have been non-nationals. Over the last 25 years living on Barbados and the more than four decades that I have been promoting the destination, the subject of foreign ownership of hotels and other tourism entities has arisen many times.
I suppose that in an ideal world, every square foot of land on the island would either be owned by its citizens, either privately or safeguarded by the state.
A possible compromise might be that acreage over a certain size would only be available on lengthy leases to foreigners.
We are extremely fortunate, despite the many unbudgeted operational cost increases recently, that we have remained profitable for over 20 years.
And there can be very few businesses where new owners could walk into and reopen in December with a ready-to-go hotel, already more than 50 per cent booked for the upcoming winter season.
One thing for sure is that this, or any consecutive Government, is going to have to at least try and restore viability to our tourism industry if there is any hope to involve more locals in the sector.
Perhaps overseas investors calculate the possible risk and return in a completely different way. Looking at what could be long term gains in property values, expansion in room stock or, as in our case, developing currently unused land.
From a local perspective, one of the stumbling blocks could be the perceived or actual problem of obtaining affordable financing.
Running any small business on Barbados is not for the faint-hearted.
It requires long working hours, often during what many consider unsociable times. And certainly the incredibly high level of bureaucracy is a major deterrent to achieving growth.
 As an example, despite repeated calls to simplify the application process for “approved small business” status and changes to the Small Business Development Act, little or no progress has been made.  
Unemployment figures
The challenge is there for any administration to address, and until it effectively addresses these issues, it’s not likely that we will see any major change in the escalating unemployment figures.
The fact which many recognize worldwide is that any significant increase in the number of people employed is likely to be driven by small businesses while larger conglomerates continue to downsize, as has been graphically illustrated recently.
The Minister of Finance must also realize this, and has a golden opportunity to both demonstrate he understands the economic challenges of this sector, especially at the micro level, and that he is listening to the concerned players.
Let us really hope that “it is a budget to look forward to” and contains something that will restore the spirit that keeps small businesses going.