For some reason, all the tourism policymakers I have approached have been reluctant to confirm exactly what the law is relating to the registration and licensing of our tourism accommodation.
While researching the mandate of the Barbados Tourism Authority, the body entrusted to regulate the industry, I came up with Chapter 342 of the Laws of Barbados which clearly states under section 25 (1) that ‘No person shall operate any tourist accommodation unless that person first applies for and obtains a licence issued in accordance with the regulations’.
That seems unequivocal and straight forward enough. If the law has been changed and amendments made since this was enacted which significantly changes the rules then please let us know? If they have not, then clearly the law is not being enforced and judging by the increasing number of websites highlighting new accommodation providers which appear almost on a weekly basis, it must be an area of concern.
Perhaps before the internet, unlicensed properties would have gone largely unnoticed, but that has all changed. With travel reference sites like TripAdvisor attracting over 40 million unique visitors per month even properties with 4 or 5 rooms can generate major interest. Many are not registered or licensed at all and some I am told have their application pending but seem to be carrying on business as usual in the meantime.
So why should we be worried?
The annual budget granted to the Barbados Tourism Authority has approached almost a $100 million annually. It seems inconceivable that marketing funds could be spent most effectively without knowing the extent of our entire room stock. There is also the question of quality control, safety, security and health. If they are unlicensed what proof is there to ensure they carry all the necessary fire and health certificates, insurance for public liability and do they pay all due taxes including VAT.
How are visitors staying in unlicensed properties factor in overall long stay arrival numbers?
And what if there is a problem, defective or over-booked accommodation, who is going to mediate to ensure the reputation of the destination is protected?
Of course, there is a simple solution. That all categories of rentable accommodation are carried on a publicly accessible online listing!
Those properties inspected and approved by the BTA would be granted a unique registration number. This could also be used for any duty free or other concessions. All pending applications would be listed as well and once the license had been granted they would move over the approved section. Any increased costs of implementing such a register could be recouped through an application fee.
The need to better regulate the industry is becoming even more critical if we are going to maximise earnings, improve quality assurance and give the booking public clear guidelines to standards they can expect.
The British Government’s recent announcement that they were abandoning their national hotel star rating system and suggesting that people use social media reference sites like TripAdvisor instead, should indicate the imperative to bring about changes in the way we do business.