EDITORIAL: Remaining on a positive tourism path
IT HAS LONG BEEN accepted that one can get statistics to say almost anything one wants. And when it comes to professionals whose lives revolve around figures, individuals from opposite sides of the fence can present the same statistics in such a manner that they can be interpreted to support their individual and opposing positions.
Yesterday, Minister of Tourism Richard Sealy presented members of the news media and tourism practitioners with statistics that said 2015 was “the best producing year in history for tourist arrivals to the island”. In fact, a statement issued by Barbados Tourism Marketing Inc. at the same event said: “This performance has transcended 2007, which previously held the highest record of over 570 000 visitors. In 2015, Barbados registered a 3.4 per cent increase in tourists when compared with 2007.”
Compared with 2014, last year’s arrivals represented a 13.7 per cent increase — just short of 600 000 tourists.
Instantly, as was to be expected, there were Barbadians lined up to question or even dispute the minister’s figures. Also as expected, one of the most vigorously argued points related to whether more tourists meant more revenue for the country. Put another way, they wanted to know if more visitors meant more money was spent in Barbados.
We do not feel the need to join that debate at this time. There can be no disputing the fact that for several years our tourist arrivals declined, and given the heavy dependency of the economy on visitor spending, we all felt the impact. Now that the numbers are on the increase the least they should provoke is a sense of hope that the tough times of the recent past are starting to disappear.
It is therefore absolutely important that across the board Barbadians, having felt the pressure of the decline, determine that we will all do what is necessary to propel the industry forward. Matters such as the cleanliness of our country, the quality of service we offer in our places of business, the way how we interact with our guests on the streets and in other public places and our national approach to nuisances such as the proliferation of vagrants in Bridgetown will impact on the resuscitation of the sector, depending on how we treat them.
It is also clear that ordinary Barbadians have to be “educated” on matters such as incentives and supports for the various segments of the sector because, like it or not, measuring success will have to include the “cost” of such assistance versus the “cost” of missed opportunities.
How our tourism leaders treat developments in the sector in the future and the extent to which they speak frankly and openly with Barbadians when things don’t go smoothly ought to be influenced by the experiences of recent years as well. For years there had been weaknesses in our tourism sector, but we continued to benefit from the good name that had been developed over decades. For example, much of our hotel plant had grown tired and uninviting, especially when compared with emerging destinations; the quality of our service delivery had fallen in too many areas; and our approach to the management of the sector had become bureaucratic and lacking in imagination.
Yet, when our numbers started to fall, those in charge too often chose, for the partisan political reason, to cast it almost entirely as a result of the global economic recession. Yes, the recession was a major contributor, but we compounded the problem with our approaches.
The world economy has turned the corner and we are doing things differently – more sensibly. But we are now in a far more competitive environment and many of our neighbours are no longer prepared to sit quietly by and cede opportunities to Barbados as some untouchable tourism guru.
We can argue over the figures as presented yesterday or we can accept just simply that there has been movement in the right direction and how far along that path we travel is almost entirely in our hands.