THE ISSUE: More questions than answers
IN THE IMMEDIATE AFTERMATH of the United Kingdom referendum, with the British voting in favour of leaving the European Union (EU), there were fears that the decision would negatively affect tourism in Caribbean destinations like Barbados.
One of the individuals who voiced this view was Professor Andy Knight, professor of International Relations at the University of Alberta, Canada, and former director of the Institute of International Relations, at the University of the West Indies in Trinidad.
He saw a negative impact for trade and tourism, and singled out Barbados as one regional country that could be most affected.
“I see potential problems for tourism in the Caribbean, especially in Barbados. One of the first signs that the Brexit result has revealed is the downward slide of the sterling. On Black Friday, the pound fell to its lowest level in 30 years. A weak pound will have an impact on the ability of Brits to take holidays in the Caribbean and to invest in vacation properties in the region,” he said.
“In 2015, there were about 1.5 million UK visitors to the Caribbean. In Barbados, in particular, British nationals are an important source of real estate foreign direct investment. If these Brits are faced with a weak sterling, then they may not take vacations in Barbados and other Caribbean countries.”
Both Prime Minister Freundel Stuart and Minister of Tourism and International Transport Richard Sealy appeared to be more optimistic when they spoke on what impact the so-called Brexit could have on Barbados, especially the tourism industry.
Stuart said he did not see a short term impact, and added: “. . . But clearly, given the close relationship between Barbados and the United Kingdom, our heavy dependence on British tourism, and the fact that we have an international business sector that benefits from British investment as well, we have to wait and see what will happen over the medium to long-term.”
Sealy was confident that regardless of whether the UK left the EU it would remain Barbados’ main tourism market.
“The truth is that Barbados has to do what we have to do. The brand is extremely strong in the UK and that is not going to change, and we have to continue to work hard,” he said.
Tui, the world biggest tour operator, said it did not expect Brits to spend their holidays at home once the UK left the EU. However, Tui managing director Fritz Joussen noted that if the pound’s lost value in the long term travellers from the UK would have reduced spending power, which would affect holiday destinations.
While Joussen doubted this would curb British travel overseas, the Tui spokesman said if their spending was curbed destinations like Canary Islands, Greece, Turkey and the Caribbean would feel it most.
Caribbean Tourism Organisation Secretary General Hugh Riley said: “Brexit presents a potential risk to Caribbean economies”.
“Of what size, no one yet knows. The nature of the risk will depend on several factors, including the kind of withdrawal arrangements the UK negotiates with the EU and the impact on the British economy during the period of transition,” he said.
“Brexit’s negative impact on the global financial markets has been swift, but hopefully temporary. Many analysts are saying there is no need to panic. In these early days, there are certainly more questions than answers.”