TOURISM MATTERS: Brexit not all gloom and doom
The abundantly obvious subject for this week’s column would have been Brexit and the potentially damaging results it could have on what is still our single largest tourism market, the United Kingdom (UK). But in hindsight, there is so much speculation, unknown elements and possibilities yet to be clearly evaluated it is really difficult to formulate a measured or even an intelligent response.
What is unmistakable and without dispute at this stage, is that due to the depreciated value of pound sterling it will be immediately make Barbados and the Caribbean generally, more expensive for British visitors. Some tour operators may have ordered forward United States dollars, so they may not have to immediately either absorb or re-negotiate contracted hotel and villa rates.
From my own 12 years as a tour operator in the UK, we experienced significant pounds devaluation twice during that period. We both absorbed the cost increases without passing them on to the customer but also went cap-in-hand to many of the hotels we used. They were incredibly sympathetic and we came to an amicable arrangement which minimised their depleted revenue while ensuring that they did not lose room nights, particularly at short notice.
During our more than a decade trading period, we did not discount a single holiday, but for clients willing and able to pay in full by credit card at least nine months prior to the travel date, we offered a ten per cent published price reduction. Those monies were then placed in an escrow account that earned a meaningful rate of interest and this would either wholly or partially offset currency fluctuation.
While for many this Brexit has come as an unexpected shock, I think that we can use the situation to focus on ensuring that all tourism partners are giving improved value for money to our visitors.
Clearly, one of the ways that could help would be for Government to speed up the agreed concessions promised to the tourism industry at large and which only a single player has been largely benefiting from for almost three long years.
And that ‘special one’ largely collects payment offshore in the local currency where the product is marketed, therefore almost eliminating any losses caused by differing exchange rates. This ‘luxury’ is not available to the majority of our lodging providers, especially the smaller properties.
The administration must be convinced by now that there is only one major economic sector that is going to take us out of the current fiscal malaise of debt with currently minimal, if any, GDP annual growth.
I also wonder if Brexit and the lower valued pound has created an opportunity for many more British manufacturers to step up to the plate and increase exports to our region. As we import the vast majority of consumables used in tourism, this again could help soften the blow.
Perhaps our very proactive British High Commissioner to Barbados could liase with the Barbados Hotel and Tourism Association and help identify areas where increased opportunities may be possible. Trade delegations also help fill empty air seats and hotel beds.
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