FOR WHAT IT’S WORTH: Indigenous tourism
We know that our tourism product is “tired” and in need of diversification. Since we have so many repeat visitors, some of them visiting for 40 years or more, we must produce fresh and interesting activities. Some have shortened their stay because “there isn’t enough to do”.
We must respond to the demands of all tourism customers – those who prefer to stay within a hotel property as well as those who want to mix with the locals and sample the Barbadian “way of life”. Government has produced a White Paper On Tourism, and more recently, the Tourism Master Plan has made its appearance after a six-year gestation period.
Minister Richard Sealy was reported as saying that the White Paper “in essence would have set the policy framework; the Master Plan is far more detailed than that and is intended to be a working document, planning what we would like to see happen in tourism for the next 20 years”.
It’s heartening to see though that some people have been proactive and have introduced interesting and innovative initiatives in advance of these documents. The Barbados National Trust is well known for its open houses, showcasing both modern homes as well as those of historical interest. These are always well attended and give craftspeople a chance to showcase their wares. The Horticultural Society complements this with its increasingly popular open gardens.
Of course sports tourism has been on the increase in recent years, with events like international motor racing, surfing and polo, sailing and game fishing. The recent Caribbean Premier League cricket was also an impressive and successful innovation.
Medical tourism has been given a considerable boost by the Fertility Centre, which offers “fertility treatment in paradise with less stress”, and has earned an excellent international reputation. But since 2010 we were told that the St Joseph Hospital would become a specialist hospital. Well, only a few days ago, we had an update, with the president of American World Clinics stating that he expects the clinic to open by June 2016. Another gestation period of six years – if he is fortunate enough to unravel the usual red tape associated with such ventures! Meanwhile, the launch of The 4H Hospital, a new medical tourism hospital, was reported in THE NATION recently.
We need to continue to capitalise on our diverse culinary heritage. More and more visitors are avoiding large restaurants and requesting visits to small community type restaurants and “rum shops” which serve simple, but very tasty and reasonably priced Caribbean fare. These are springing up across the country to fill this need.
We recently saw a British celebrity chef and TV presenter visiting one of these in St John, noting that the scenic location was ideal for shooting part of the Barbados episode of his new show Ainsley Eats The Streets.
The Revitalisation of Bridgetown Project, although not fully implemented, has introduced interesting activities like Bridgetown Alive, and of course the beautification of the Constitution River and the new Church Village Green bring infinite entertainment opportunities for the industry.
Of course, the UNESCO World Heritage designation has brought renewed interest in heritage tourism, including the introduction of the Changing Of The Guard and the Washington House dinner experience. On the other hand, eco-tourism, well suited to the Scotland District, seems to be slow in taking off.
I’ve been trying to encourage farmers to venture into agricultural tourism, and through the Horticultural Society, this year I introduced an agricultural tour which was extremely well received by Germans, Canadians, British and even some Barbadians who wanted to learn more about agriculture. Some noted that although they had been coming to Barbados for many years and were interested in agriculture, they had never been able to learn about it. Even the Barbadians said it was an eye-opener. It also revealed that visitors want to sample local foods, and last night one visitor was commenting on the lovely flavour of our carrots (take heed, hoteliers!).
In short, to achieve sustainable tourism we need to heed the United Nations World Tourism Organisation and European Travel Commission and be authentic and indigenous. We also need to offer consistent service and last, but not least, stop shooting visitors. It’s ironic that while the visitors who were shot last year are here, there has been another visitor shooting.
Dr Frances Chandler is a former Independent senator. Email [email protected]