TOURISM MATTERS: Only hope for recovery
LAST WEEK’S COLUMN attracted a lot of interest and discussion, with a tiny number inferring that I had a personal agenda, as an hotelier, to obstruct Airbnb and its counterparts. Nothing could be further from the truth. Since buying a then derelict hotel almost 30 years ago, and spending nearly three decades helping build it into a high occupancy multi award winning boutique hotel, I think my wife and I have a better than average idea of what it takes to make a tourism business successful on Barbados.
In the very early days, very few merchants would grant us credit with the notable exception of Carters and Company, for which we will be eternally grateful. There were also outstanding gestures of faith and I graphically recall when we needed a new long ladder to paint the property exterior, the Oran family agreed to barter accommodation and meals against what was then a major unbudgeted expense.
Another overnight stay was a gallon or two of paint and various two-week stays were eventually sufficient to buy enough greenheart to replace every single roof of our 18 separate buildings spread over 138 520 square feet.
Not for a second am I advocating this as a business model to follow for young would-be-entrepreneurs trying to get on the first level of the tourism industry, but our experiences and challenges have given an almost unique insight into the values of things and how to accomplish goals with very limited resources.
What is so often most irksome of the detrimental comments is their clear lack of knowledge and facts. Among these are all the concessions and loans we have received from Government, a suggestion which is so far removed from the truth that it’s laughable. Apart from a reduced rate of land taxes, when we were open, there has been absolutely none. So it is particularly irritating, when people point out “all the Government help you hoteliers” get.
In reality, successive Governments, regardless of party affiliations, have put boulders in our way, including their foray in the hotel ownership and management and the disaster that became GEMS (Hotels and Resorts Ltd).
The Prime Minister at the time of conception was gracious enough to spare me an audience, where I virtually begged him not to embark on this folly. The meeting got very heated and it was clear that I was not going to change a decision to go ahead. Hundreds of millions of wasted dollars later, you would think I would be happy to tell you, I told you so. But when you factor in the damage it has inflicted of our small hotel sector, including the systematic predatory prices practised by GEMS including the nearby Silver Rock hotel, I can assure you there is no sense of comfort.
No one can close the door on Airbnb and other shared economy accommodation alternatives now, but we can do all in our power to ensure it is properly regulated and paying taxes, like the overwhelming rest of us with one or two exceptions, if only to protect the integrity of the destination.
As we get closer to a budget and a general election, I marvel at all the fanciful “solutions” people are announcing. Let’s get real. Any truly informed player will tell you that at least in the short to medium term, the only sector that is going to get us out of the current fiscal malaise is tourism. When our banks, financial institutions and politicians eventually truly understand this, there is just maybe, some hope for recovery.
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