THE HOYOS FILE: Celebrating Tourism Week with the best team ever
It was a beautiful evening in Carlisle Bay, at Blackwoods Screw Dock, to be precise, where I was attending the launch of the Barbados Food & Rum Festival. Somewhere towards the end of an interview with chief executive officer of the Barbados Tourism Marketing Inc. (BTMI), William “Billy” Griffith, with the creativity of more than one mixologist in my system, I thought I heard Griffith say he was about to celebrate a major anniversary of his career in tourism.
So I went back and checked the tape (well, the iPhone) as it was still “rolling” at the time. He said: “Two days ago it was 37 years I’ve been in this business – I look much younger than that – but I think I’ve enjoyed every minute. I haven’t felt a single minute out of those 37 years. I’ve been in the hotel and tourism business all my life….”
Congratulations to you, Griffith, and thanks for the most recent two of those years, which you have spent at the helm of BTMI.
Now, at the risk of handing out too many compliments, which is always inadvisable for a columnist, the question has to be asked: How can a Government which has dragged its feet for so long on so many critical decisions of national economic importance, and which continues to be trapped in its own indecisiveness, have finally gotten it right on tourism?
Before I go on, let me say that I feel I have to start the discussion off this way, because the facts speak for themselves. But it is not a backhanded compliment I am trying to give here, you know, crying down the Dolittlers for everything and then grudgingly admitting they got it right on tourism.
Of course, and we have all known this for ever and ever, our love-hate relationship with tourism goes back to the service versus servitude argument, and the natural unease you feel – no matter how naturally hospitable you are as an individual or as part of your culture – at knowing you always have to physically share your country with others in order to get the foreign exchange you need to survive.
Anyway, when Billy (the rum in my head put me on a first-name basis with him for a few minutes) said 37 years I realised how long we in the region have been tourism-dependent and still really don’t like to admit it in polite company.
So that’s why I am writing this, with Tourism Week being celebrated all over Barbados. In fact, I wish there was a lot more going on, but then that will take time. Congrats to the Barbados Tourism Product Authority (BTPA) for really trying to reach into the community with a school visit, a beach clean-up, the workers’ parade through Bridgetown, the Road Runner outreach to off-the-beaten-track communities, and so on.
The professional approach to marketing brought into the new BTMI by Griffith, who despite his affable way has a steely grasp of the demands of destination promotion, is matched by his counterpart at BTPA, Dr Kerry Hall, who brings a cultural and psychological understanding of how to integrate tourism into a community, both at the intellectual and gut, or emotional, level. If you want to put them in media business terms, Griffith is (message) distribution, Kerry is (tourism) content. Like two sides of the same coin, these two functions cannot exist by themselves.
A few days ago, Minister of Tourism Richard Sealy summed it up for me, saying that no matter how successful we are in increasing our tourism numbers, we have to re-engineer the product itself.
“We are still in a very competitive environment,” he noted. “We still have a situation where our product needs a lot of attention – our repeat visitors are still saying it – and if they are saying it, you know, new people might be assessing their options.
“We have to do a lot of work on our product. We have to do a lot of work on upgrading our hotels, and bringing in new hotels as well….I’m under no illusions at all that one or two record years means that I can go home and string up a hammock and put my feet up.”
Okay, that reference to putting his feet up was in direct response to my asking him if he was now going to sit back and relax, after setting the stage for passing that historic 600 000 mark in long stay arrivals.
And finally, the person putting together some of the deals – like the one with the Chinese for a loan to rebuild Sam Lord’s Castle – is Stuart Layne, the CEO of Barbados Tourism Investment Inc., who is one of the big unsung heroes among the tourism technocrats.
I can’t tell you much more about Stuart because he doesn’t say much, but he is right up there with Griffith and Kerry in bringing Barbados tourism back.
Under the Owen Arthur administration, he was the person who pioneered bringing the Zagat Guide to Barbados. That was his baby.
So while I am still awaiting some positive and creative action from the minister of finance on getting our economy going again, let us give credit where it’s due on the tourism side. This country is too small to let it get so polarised by politics not to see the good work that is being done, and not to give Jack his jacket.
Long before the market returned, Sealy was working on bring tourism back up to its present stature. He finally got all of his plans to move forward and perhaps was fortunate to get those top three executives in place as he has done.
They in turn, especially Griffith, who has the larger staff deployed in several major capitals around the world, have built excellent teams which are doing their jobs well and with ingenuity and creativity.
Congrats to them all.
And to my readers who like their columnist to be more adversarial, I promise to start complaining again from next week.