Whenever possible I listen to the radio broadcasts of both houses of Parliament, especially if there is a possibility tourism will be discussed. When recently, Senate members were responding to the budget, I paid particular attention to one speaker and was frankly shocked by the level of misinformation about our number one industry that was being disseminated. I thought that at any moment, one of the other twenty Senators would raise a point or order and everybody present would benefit from fact rather than fiction. Sadly, it didn’t happen, and I got to thinking that if tourism is really going to be taken seriously at all levels of governance, should we not have people in place that are sufficiently informed to make a positive contribution.
Looking around at the composition of the Upper House, it consists of lawyers, a captain of commerce, agriculturalist, financial advisor, clergyman, trade unionist, former diplomat, teacher, credit union manager, academic, economist, and a medical professor amongst others. In all, individuals, many of which have four or five decades of acquired ability and knowledge in their own fields of endeavour. But not a single tourism expert, with the length and breadth knowledge of the industry to ensure that all the combined expertise is maximised in this sector.
Perhaps it is unreasonable for everyone to be an thoroughly versed on every subject debated, but surely more homework has to be done to allow information proffered is constructive rather than destructive. While in the United States recently, I came across a small device called Square, which if introduced into Barbados and the Caribbean could transform the way many of our small businesses do business. Not just in tourism, but across most sectors. It fits into the audio jack of an iPhone, iPod Touch, iPad and android based mobile phones. Rather than the traditional credit and debit card processors with their variable rates, monthly and sometimes hidden charges, Square charges a flat standard 2.75 per cent merchant transaction fee.
Whereas, previously many factors could influence the discount rate and other fees you pay for the privilege of accepting charge cards, including length of time you have been in business, the type of business, percentage of your sales over the phone and internet, average dollar transaction, total dollar amount of sales per month etc. Many banks also will not offer merchant accounts directly to small businesses and use third party providers, which can also increase acceptance costs.
With Square, wireless technology enables even the smallest, most remote trader to accept payment electronically and often at a more attractive cost than current dominant processors. From a tourism perspective just think how many more smaller players would be empowered if they were allowed the flexibility and advantage of accepting payment by plastic.
On returning home, I sent the information to a credit union, local bank and one of the major telecommunications providers, hoping they would explore the potential. Sadly, weeks later, only the bank even bothered to respond. Perhaps the status quo currently protects existing near monopolies and it is not in their interest to drive choice and more competitive ways of doing business.