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EDITORIAL: Not business as usual

BEA DOTTIN, [email protected]

EDITORIAL: Not business as usual

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This country is going to have to fight tooth and nail for every penny in foreign exchange that it earns to provide Barbadians with the standard of living to which they have become accustomed.
The tourist season has opened with the usual festivities during the past week, but the battle for increased arrivals from Britain continues to be stymied and adversely affected by the Air Passenger Duty (APD) which has increased the cost of travel to these parts because the system is so skewed that we end up as a region suffering a higher imposition of this duty than some destinations at greater distance.
This is something which we have to live with at the start of this season as we fight not only as a country, but as part of CARICOM, to have what we consider an uneven playing field modified.
The recovery of our economy does not depend on tourism alone, but when we declare that tourism is our business, it is precisely that in every sense of the word. It is a business, it is our business and it provides congenial employment and foreign exchange, all of which enure to the common good.
We fully support the call of Minister of Tourism Richard Sealy, who realistically told us last Thursday at the opening of the local offices of the Caribbean Tourism Organization (CTO) at Baobab Towers in Warrens, St Michael, that he did not expect the tax to be repealed outright, but that the CTO must continues its advocacy, and that it had a lot of work to do to bring about some change in the APD.
It is clearly a sensitive issue since we cannot dictate to another country how it must organize its revenue gathering processes, but this region, and our island in particular, depend greatly on tourism as we try to reorganize the economy from its colonial era dependence on the single crop economy in which sugar was king.
Whether we like it or not, tourism for the foreseeable future helps us to grow our economy, feed our people and develop those social and economic structures which an independent country must promote if it is to develop in a peaceful and orderly fashion.
Last Friday, Dr Atlee Brathwaite informed farmers at the annual general meeting of Barbados Sugar Industry Limited, of which he is chairman and of which the farmers are members, that while it was costing them $120 to produce a tonne of cane, they were being paid an average price of $58.57 for every such tonne that they produced!
It is this harsh reality that lies at the foundation of the bipartisan shift from sugar to tourism, and hence the economic and political importance of tourism to our people. Naturally, the political parties have developed policies with the ultimate aim of improving our take and benefit from tourism, and whatever else may happen in the next half-year, there must be ongoing, informed and reasoned discussion about the way forward for tourism.
We may have said it before, but business as usual will not do. Concurrent with our lobby for changes in the APD, we are going to have to find ways to make tourism delivery to the consumer a friendlier and more cost-efficient exercise; for it is our business to keep the tourists coming.
The Leader of the Opposition has put forward a ten-point plan for revival of the industry. He calls for extraordinary methods to drag the economy and tourism out of crisis. We wish to encourage other stakeholders to openly contribute to the debate.
Tourism has the capacity to invigorate the economy, but the highest benefit will only come from the total effort in which we pool ideas. Tourism is our business.