EDITORIAL: Tourism does not take a bank holiday
IS BARBADOS STILL a tourist destination? Is this industry one which is vital to our very economic survival and sustainability?
While many will quickly answer yes to these questions, believing they are no-brainers, others may pause to ponder. Whatever the case, it is still critical that they be asked, especially at a time like now.
Why? Year after year around this time, even though we know that this country will welcome an influx of people for the Christmas season and new year – not just repeat and long-stay visitors but also cruise passengers who sail in on the mega liners – many of them meet a City that is almost like a ghost town.
There were but a few stores which opened their doors on the holidays – Boxing Day and this year the extra holiday on Tuesday since Christmas fell on a Sunday. A thorough check will prove that the usual suspects opened their stores.
On Monday alone, there were five cruise ships bringing thousands of tourists. Sadly, they were met with closed doors in Bridgetown.
In these dire economic times, many businesses did not seize the opportunity to capitalise on much-needed foreign exchange for the country, yet alone money to help keep their operations afloat.
While some visitors are more interested in stopping at the closest beach to soak up the sun, sea and sand, others look to take in some shopping. Unfortunately, it was a lost opportunity formany retailers.
Tourism officials in particular need toget together with all the major stakeholders and come to a determination on what is best for the country as it relates to this time of year whenmany visitors will be passing through.
While we hear the concerns of some business owners who say opening on these “slow” days may not make economic sense when they balance their operating costs with probably what they make on those days, we still need to recognise that Barbados is a tourist destination. Therefore, we need to operate as such.
There is no way that a tourist destination, expecting thousands of tourists to pass through, will spare any effort in ensuring that its main City and shopping area is bustling with business on these days. Sometimes it is simply about the message being sent. Closing at this time could be sending a signal that is not intended at all.
One couple on a cruise to 11 Caribbean islands over a 14-day period said that while enjoying the sights and scenes, they were also making a decision on which island they would revisit. Another couple lamented that they were looking for more excitement. In their own words, they said “everything is closed so the town doesn’t live, it’s flat”.
We need to decide if we want tourism to die, or live and thrive for us as an industry. Perhaps it is critical at this juncture for us to weigh the pros and cons of having a City that is fully open on bank holidays when we expect large volumes of visitors passing through.
We also need to determine how critical our tourist industry is to our very survival as a country.