Of course its the easy option. To continue burying our heads in the sand and pretend that we really don’t have a serious problem with our tourism industry. The alternative is to address the fundamental issues and shape solutions to the overtly obvious challenges. Everyone in the private sector is acutely aware of the current situation because they work it and live it everyday. Yet in other, circles there seems to be a climate of malaise and denial.
Earlier this year a number of publications carried a statement attributed to the current chairman of the Barbados Tourism Authority during a press conference at the Hilton, quoting as saying ‘that the BTA had spent over BDS$250,000 promoting the annual Crop Over Festival which he said has been a major success’. As ‘has’ is in the past tense, after studying the long stay visitor arrival figures for July and August, this heady prediction appears woefully optimistic and grossly inaccurate.
Based on the provisional figures issued by the Barbados Statistical Service, July shows a decline of 18.1 per cent from the USA, 8.3 per cent Canada, 5.5 per cent UK, 10.2 per cent Trinidad and a staggering 20.0 per cent from Other Caricom. Overall a 12 per cent fall over the same period in 2011. August got even worse. USA down 12.8 per cent, Canada 2.4 per cent, UK 17.8 per cent, Other Caricom 16.0 per cent. While Trinidad and Tobago showed a growth of 4 per cent, across all markets there was a decline of 13.6 per cent when compared with last year.
When eventually released, it is difficult to imagine the figures for September are going to fare any better, with October and November traditionally being two of the most challenging months of the year. There also appears to be no news of the promised ‘fully integrated advertising campaign’ in ‘which Rihanna will be doing for her country that will be spread across social media and new media’ and scheduled ‘to be launched in September’. It is almost incomprehensible why this major investment of taxpayer monies has been held such a secret and not shared with the industry that generates the cash to fund it. Hopefully it will create a greater return on investment than the quarter of million dollars put into promoting Crop Over this year.
As we approach a general election, its difficult not to look back at the current Government’s 2008 manifesto and particularly the pledges made in respect to tourism. Not a single one of the eight stated objectives have been successfully implemented, including producing a tourism masterplan, re-structuring of the BTA or targeting the Caricom market more effectively. While the opposition talks about turning Barbados into a ‘5 star destination’, it doesn’t explain how and even if that policy decision was made tomorrow, how long does any rational or informed person think this would take?
In a globally competitive market, we are already so far behind many other destinations, with only a single truly five star hotel comprising of just 112 rooms. Sadly, the eroded viability of the industry, compounded by falling arrival numbers, average spend and rampant unbudgeted increases in operational costs have resulted in a lack of profitability. As a consequence many properties are unable to maintain their plant to a high standard, let alone upgrade.
The writing has been on the wall for a long time, and while some may be reticent to use the word ‘crisis’, I am not sure there is a more accurate description.