Submitted by DGS
While the humble, honest Barbadian makes his way to work early every morning and comes back tired, yet happy after a long day’s work, he is unknowing of a serious potential threat to his lifestyle that demands immediate attention. Other than the Civil Service, the tourism sector is by far the largest employer in Barbados, generating the majority of foreign exchange used by local businesses to purchase goods and services abroad.
For several years the Barbados Hotel and Tourism Association (BHTA) has been relentlessly pleading with the government to lower duties on certain items that would ease the cost of doing business in such a competitive industry (after all it is one of the only industries in Barbados that competes internationally, not domestically and imports foreign exchange). The reasons for this are due to such harsh competition with islands such as Aruba, Dominican Republic etc it is very hard to compete price-wise when we are being taxed on goods and services, which attract little or no duties in other destinations.
This is detrimental to the Barbados economy as a whole, and when the economy is affected- every single person in Barbados is affected. There is less foreign capital flowing into the economy thereby hindering growth. Therefore, in due course, the BHTA formulated a conservative ten-point plan which they expected the Barbados government would grant them. The downturn in the economy placed Barbados in the top ten countries in debt in the world with public debt at 102.1% of GDP. As a result, many people hoped Mr. Sinclair, Minister of Finance would grant these duty and tax cuts. Unfortunately, all hopes were dashed after the budget was announced in September. The only thing Mr. Sinclair did for the hotel industry apart from returning VAT to 7.5% from 8.5%, was to lower duty on heavy cream from 160% to 40%, a slap in the face to the people who have been so eagerly fighting to survive in such a tough global economy. Heavy cream is used minimally in hotels and the overall saving would be infinitesimal to the industry. Meanwhile duties on wooden furniture which must be imported continue at 60% plus VAT. To protect whom? The hotels have to be furnished attractively enough to compete in a global market and many items are simply not available here.
Obviously, when companies suffer in Barbados, so too do the locals working hard for their lifestyle. People are laid off, companies shut down, increasing unemployment rates; and crime and theft increase- making life hard for everyone. (We do not aspire to live in conditions such as Jamaica and Trinidad).
This is where we introduce the problem. Recently Sandals struck a deal with the Barbados government and was invited into Barbados and given a large list of concessions including: no duty or tax on any item used for building and OPERATING the hotel including all Food & Beverages, watercraft and cars for senior management. Even duty free furniture for foreign managers’ homes. It is rumored that no tax on profits and no land tax is also included.
These concessions were granted and signed off in a matter of days by the Barbados government to a FOREIGN company. How did this occur? Without the details we are left to speculate the many possibilities.
Is Sandals good for Barbados?
Conditionally it is – they have plenty of marketing power and ability to bring tourists to the island.(Although an icon such as Rihanna has a much broader reach young future visitors and has put Barbados on the map)-but most certainly not beneficial under these conditions, where local competitiveness is extinguished. Therefore the ONLY WAY Sandals is beneficial to Barbados, is if all hotels are playing on a level playing field with the rest of Barbados, after all the Sandals chain already has more spending power than any hotel in Barbados!
Let me be clear- Sandals Resorts Ltd IS NOT the problem. The concessions granted to Sandals are NOT the problem. The problem is that we are promoting self-destruction of LOCAL businesses by making it IMPOSSIBLE for them to compete, not only in the Caribbean, but in our OWN country! Local businesses CANNOT survive if we have to play with one hand tied behind our back! Does this mean that tomorrow all businesses in Barbados will go bankrupt? No, but it means a long, slow and painful death for ALL local businesses competing in the tourism sector- which is the major driver of the economy! Furthermore, the 150 work permits we are told have been granted to Sandals means 150 foreigners coming and taking Bajan jobs. These kind of grants have never occurred in the HISTORY of Barbados or to the writers knowledge in any sector, far less the tourism sector.
What next? Once concessions are granted to a huge international chain like Sandals, they (the Barbados government) have no grounds on which to reject any other large hotel chain that decides to enter our country or for that matter any other large tourism related company? Where is the line and where does this bloody rollercoaster ride end? The way it is going – the future may very well end up in the hands of foreign billionaires, taking the occasional trip over in their private jets to see how their empire is going. These people will not care intimately about Barbados the way we locals do. They won’t treasure what we treasure and they won’t care. They will be seeking new ways to make bigger year end profits. This is unlike local Bajan owners who care for our island. (This is not pointing a finger at Sandals. Simply pointing out where we may be heading.)
What steps does the Barbados Government need to take to soften the matter and put Bajan hearts at ease? They need to give ALL these concessions to ALL local hotel businesses. This will invigorate and promote local growth from within, keeping our jobs and profits LOCAL.
We as a people have been very conservative in relation to political matters in the past. This is a time when we ALL need to take a stand for the people of Barbados, for our jobs, our families and our lifestyles. There is NO line we shouldn’t be willing to cross. We DESERVE these concessions and we DESERVE a level playing field. Being relentless in our demand is the only way we will achieve justice for the Barbadian people.