Nurturing productive consumers
. . . Combining sports and entertainment in major sporting events is the way to increase value added for Barbados’ tourism product . . . . (It) will bring visitors and foreign exchange to our island. – Minister of Culture Stephen Lashley, Weekend Nation, August 2, 2013, Page 3.
The trifecta of major events at Kensington Oval over the weekend – you might have called it a Crop Over sandwich with Caribbean Premier League (CPL) cricket in the middle – was also preceded by two other CPL matches earlier in the week.
Together with earlier successful events on the Crop Over calendar, they provided the first breath of fresh air in a while for our rapidly asphyxiating economy. You could see and hear the welcome increase in visitors over the past few weeks. It was almost as if we were back in the heady days of summers past.
Needless to say, the Government reacted as if it had just imbibed a double expresso. The austerity heralded in the Medium-Term Growth and Development Strategy (MGDS) suddenly faded away at least temporarily, as if all it took was the festive equivalent of a glass of water thrown on the Wicked Witch of the West.
Nary a word was mentioned about those dreaded cutbacks which the Prime Minister himself, as well as the MGDS document, said must be made. And the minister of finance, sensing the coming celebratory mood of the public, gave me the impression that he saw the black and white strictures of the MGDS as mere opening talking points.
Send home people? Not if we can help it, he said.
A similar fate awaited the Barbados Private Sector Agency’s (BPSA) proposals for economic rescue. At least for now.
The ideas in this document, titled Barbados Economic Recovery – A Proposed Course Of Action, are all worthwhile and I await the Budget to see how some of them are incorporated into the minister of finance’s big picture. I am assuming, without much help from his recent comments, that he is formulating one.
Perhaps half of the BPSA’s proposals have to do with improving productivity, in ways that we can all agree with, at least on paper. Politically, many of them have been impossible to implement, and these might now have a chance of getting some traction, given the economic bind we are in.
But let me just point out something that is obvious to any layman, or promoter, or restaurant/bar owner: the success of the recent events that pulled massive crowds – adding the ones mentioned above to all the other events usually associated with this time of year – could not have been successful without the local population coming out as well.
So, while I heartily agree with Lashley’s sentiments regarding upgrading and expanding our events calendar to attract more visitors and earn more foreign exchange, the essential fact here is that these events will never be successful without local patrons, too.
So, how do we get enough money in the pockets of the same people who have saved so hard for Crop Over to allow them to afford to support more of the same at other times of the year – for example, say, an annual Rihanna or similar megastar concert of the level promised by RocNation, or the Top Gear festival, or the increasingly popular racing events at Bushy Park, or the recently-touted and brand new Easter or fall arts festival? Not to mention the Food, Wine & Rum Festival, or the Christmas jazz festival, or the “On The Hill” concerts, or the recurring gospel shows?
I am tired out just trying to write them all down, and I haven’t mentioned the sporting ones like horse racing, or the possibly-coming Indian Film Festival or home-grown events like Animekon.
We want the local patrons who are needed to make these events successful to be more productive workers too. How are you going to get people to come out to all of these events (okay, not everybody goes to every event, but sizeable parts of the population in various age groups or demographics will be needed) and then start implementing stricter productivity measures on them? They are the same people.
Barbados’ success has been the greatest where both visitors and locals enjoy the same events at a higher per capita rate than many another destinations. Most events in the great cities of the world are mainly for locals (like baseball, basketball, etc.) or mainly for visitors (like the theatre).
In New York City, Times Square is the tourist trap, while Union Square is for locals. (A few people like me like both.)
We mix it up here, which makes for better sharing of the resources of the island, more natural hospitality, the breaking down of them-and-us barriers which poison so many tourist industries, and most importantly from a financial point of view, for a larger target market for each event promoter or festival planner or bar proprietor.
So while I fully support the BPSA’s suggestions on lowering the cost of living or doing business in the many practical ways outlined, I think we have to discuss this idea of productivity more fully in the context of a major policy direction of the Government (which I also agree with) to build out our international events calendar. There are limits to how much the “productive consumer” can do.
• Pat Hoyos is a publisher and business writer.Email [email protected]