TOURISM IS BARBADOS’ business, but some Barbadians’ attitude to visitors suggest they don’t understand their part, says entrepreneur Kim Medford.
The businesswoman who hosts international students attending the University of the West Indies Cave Hill Campus, expressed her views following an incident in her Free Hill, St Michael neighbourhood in which one of her students was told if she did not like the noise in the district that she should “go back where you come from”.
For Medford, those words were not only insensitive to the student’s legitimate concerns about noise, but demonstrated a lack of appreciation for the volume of business generated by international students.
And she implied this lack of appreciation contributed to the level of violence and thefts committed against these students.
“People come here to study and then they bring their relatives to stay.
This is a new type of tourism which should be encouraged by all,” said Medford as she appealed to Barbadians to be more sensitive to the different types of tourism being developed here.
She contended that many of these students spent more money here than the average tourist because they stayed for months, bought groceries, attended events, and just got around.
“They are not valued,” lamented Medford.
Demonstrating her point, she cited the number of violent incidents against these students or their family and friends that she was aware of.
The worst was the serious injuries inflicted on two of her female guests – one a Spanish national, the other Polish – in a daring mid-morning attack on Black Rock Main Road by a sword wielding man last month. Both sustained injuries, but the Pole’s were serious. The man has yet to be caught.
“The guy fractured her forehead. He was fighting with her to get a camera and slapped her in her back with a collins. She has three things that look like a fan here and the other side (pointing to her shoulder blades). She has one wound with 16 continuous stitches in the back of her head and one in the middle of her head for [trying to protect] what was hers,” she said of the woman, who with her friend came here visiting students studying here.
Medford said the man didn’t try to just steal the camera and other items, because if he had and couldn’t get them, he would have ran. Rather, “he brutalised her”.
And there were other incidents she said. For example, a French student had her passport stolen the day before she was scheduled to leave.
Then she had two students from Finland – one of whom was robbed of everything when her bag was snatched. Luckily the other one left her things at home so was able to provide for her friend for the remainder of their stay.
Another case involved a Canadian student who was on the beach and was relieved of her camera, laptop, iPod, cell phone and all her forms of identification before she even had a chance to register at Cave Hill. And a English student who was struck hard at the side of the head in an attack in Bridgetown.
“This is what you do to people who you want to come and spend money here so you can get . . . free education and health care?” she asked rhetorically.
Stating that [Sir] Hilary Beckles established a business and marketing office years ago to attract more foreign students, and the Ministry of Tourism had also launched programmes to “invite your friends and family home”, Medford said Barbadians need to see how these initiatives not only bring tourists here, but how their spending helps fund the various services Government provides.
In reports last September, Sir Hilary, the UWI’s Pro-vice Chancellor and Cave Hill principal proclaimed that the campus generated more foreign exchange than many hotels combined.
“This campus generates millions of dollars each year into this economy. This campus is a major exporter and a major income earner to this country,” he stated, pointing out the three-month English immersion courses for students from South America had so far earned more than US$5 million.
Later that month during the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding between Government and the university to formalise a framework in the areas of training, infrastructural support and facilities, Sir Hilary said that since 2009, the medical faculty had generated BDS$46.4 million.
These facts apart, Medford cited the fact that hundreds of Barbadians living within the St Michael and St James districts in proximity to the Cave Hill campus were earning a living from housing foreign students, as another reason why there should be greater appreciation of their presence.
“Some people rent a bedroom for up to $900 per month,” she disclosed, and stated that there was no way the average Barbadian would pay that type of money for a room.”
She added that people who have expanded their homes were paying their mortgages through the student accommodation business.
From Medford’s perspective too, any situation that spoils the environment for tourists and locals alike, whether it be noise pollution like dogs barking, motorcycles racing up and down residential areas; unsightly bundles of garbage lining street corners and kerbs, especially after and before refuse collection days, people burning garbage and trash, to stray animals roaming the streets, must be addressed.
“If everyone policed the kerb in front of their home there would be no unsightly collections, no vermin, no mosquitoes,” she added.
As for the actual incident that encouraged Medford to speak out, it involved the consistent barking of dogs.
Her guest, Swedish student Viveka Ornfjard, explained the barking affected her sleep and ability to study. Since the police spoke to the neighbour last Wednesday the situation had subsided somewhat.
“The hardest part is when you don’t get sympathy from the neighbours, that when we try to talk to them we don’t get a positive response,” said Ornfjard who is here for four months studying social work and psychology.
Confirming that she and Medford were told that they were not from Barbados and were only making trouble, Ornfjard said the whole matter was unfortunate but would not put her off of Barbados.
“I love Barbados. People have treated me so well here. This does not change my opinion of Barbados at all,” said the Swede, adding that though one can’t stop dogs from barking, conditions can be created for them so they would not be a nuisance.
Medford added: “Ironically CBC had her on TV a couple of weeks ago interviewing her about how happy they are to have her in Barbados and so on and so forth, yet [she is being told] to go back where she come from or go somewhere else if she doesn’t like it here.
“No Barbadian should be telling people go back to where they come from. I want people to understand they should not treat people so,” said Medford.