When certain people speak to you, you have to listen.
Their voice is never the loudest or the most heard in a room or discussion. So when my colleague Lana Yearwood, who works in the NATION’s Library, came into my office on Tuesday holding up the SUNDAY SUN with the Back Page story headlined Cruise Crisis, which quoted Minister of Tourism Kerrie Symmonds as saying that a situational analysis had revealed that the cruise sector in Barbados was “in a state of deep crisis”, I had no choice but to listen to the concerns she needed to get off her chest.
Hers were genuine as she pored over the rhetoric that has been shared over the years of cruise ships sailing into the Bridgetown Port with thousands of visitors on board, who are left with nothing to do but walk aimlessly through Bridgetown when they disembark the ships.
You know what? Lana was right. And she should be because she is part of a team that archives all the information we produce and therefore has volumes of it right at her fingertips.
The new Minister of Tourism said that even though there was an increase in arrivals, the sector was still floundering. Not news we want to hear.
Symmonds listed the things he deemed were crippling to the sector: port size constraints, inefficient passenger infrastructure, low-interest onshore activities and poor customer service.
He said low spending by cruise passengers was an issue, noting this had dropped by nearly 50 per cent. A 2016 study he quoted showed that of the 725 020 visitors to Barbados, the average spend was US$60.
That takes me directly to the point that I want to make.
How can we expect to reap the benefits of passengers cruising into Barbados and see any increase in spend if the right infrastructure is not in place?
And how can we, in good conscience, expect those same tourists to spend money when Bridgetown is sometimes closed to business on days when there are a number of vessels in with thousands of cruise passengers eager to explore the destination.
Don’t take my word for it. Look on this page at some of the past stories we have carried reporting the various times when cruise passengers were met by closed shops in The City. Bridgetown was like a ghost town with nowhere for the tourists to go, or to shop. So exactly where will they spend their money – and on what?
It is baffling, especially knowing where our economy now stands and what tourism means to our survival.
In 2016 alone, the NATION, on at least three different occasions, reported on Bridgetown being closed to shopping when cruise liners were docked in the Port.
We can’t seriously talk about the tourist spend, especially regarding cruise passengers, and not put the necessary systems in place, simple as they may be, to capitalise on monies that could go into Government’s coffers.
While I understand that everything cannot be a quick fix, not everything is as difficult as we make it either.
Case in point. With proper planning, when it is known that cruise ships are sailing into the Port, instead of closing every store in Bridgetown, make sure they are open to tempt the shopping palate of the tourists.
Forget the talk about expenses associated with opening stores and paying staff. These are simply excuses. We can’t have it both ways.
As a young reporter on the tourist beat back in the day, I always remember tourism officials saying that the intention was to turn cruise passengers into long-stay visitors.
We really need to get our act together.
Some things are just a quick fix.
But, perhaps it may take a full commission to do just that. Time will tell! (CM)
Editor’s Note: On Point returns next month as I will be on holiday for the next three weeks.