TOURISM MATTERS: Taking stock of accomodations
AS I UNDERSTAND IT, the recently formed Barbados Tourism Product Authority has been mandated to identify and hopefully licence the myriad of rental tourism accommodation across the island. Sadly, successive administrations allowed these unregulated lodgings to increase over many years and it is now frankly a daunting task to locate, inspect and eventually ensure they all meet any minimum standard of comfort and safety.
While the word iconic is frequently used to distinguish Barbados as a destination among others, any deficiency in the product casts a huge negative cloud over any hope that we could possibly qualify for such an accolade.
Over many years, it is something that I have actively campaigned for and possibly now it is not totally in vain. Not because there is any desire to restrict entry level lodging providers, but to me it is almost inconceivable that you can successfully market any product, without knowing exactly what it comprises of. There is also the huge concern of protecting our reputation and ensuring that our cherished visitors are housed in safe and secure accommodations.
I recall being dramatically woken up one night by the police, who were trying to locate a particular apartment in our area, where an American visitor had been shot twice at close range. Needless to say that property, at the same time of the incident, was not registered by our tourism officials.
There is no doubt in my mind, certainly in the past, that the relevant state quality assurance department has been grossly understated and clearly under-resourced. The balance that now has to be found is how to encapsulate a huge increase in registered properties without dramatically escalating the costs associated with inclusion.
The relative newcomer, Airbnb, lists over 300 rental properties alone on Barbados and a cursory check shows that very few of these are actually licensed. My own preference would be to give each accommodation provider a unique registration number and tie everything required to that via a computer database, where the consumer (visitor) or travel agent can easily check if a particular named property is registered and has all the necessary certificates including insurance, health, liquor, restaurant, swimming pool where applicable.
The onus would be on the owner to update in a timely manner, and failure to do so would result in de-registration. To help pay for all costs involved, including a degree or verification, there would be a small annual fee.
From January 1, 2016, the proposed threshold increase for value added tax (VAT) registration to
$200 000 per year will obviously have some effect on the smaller lodging providers. There will be impact from the cost of operating basis (not able to reclaim) and consequently by these operators not charging VAT, this should theoretically mean that some room/villa/apartment rates will fall.
Of course, they may instead choose to hike rates and pass on the extra non-recoverable VAT on electricity, maintenance costs. This possibly could further erode any competitive advantage we may have over other Caribbean islands, which do not currently levy VAT, especially among our first level tourism accommodation players.
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