Some months ago the Barbados Tourism Authority finally published a list of licensed hotels and a limited number of other accommodation providers. Sadly, I only saw it in the press and failed to understand why the agency did not post this latest listing on the official website, where the majority of the end users could access this information at any time prior to booking.
There seems absolutely no point having a national website unless it is maintained. A simple example is that three months after being granted unilateral extraordinary concessions Sandals Barbados does not yet appear on the visitbarbados.org, accommodation section. In fact, the site is so far out-of-date the location is still shown as Casuarina Beach Club, even ignoring its brief history as a Couples Resort.
It is quite frankly staggering the array of alternative accommodation that is widely advertised on the Internet, with absolutely no indication whether these properties meet the same insurance, fire and health requirements that our registered lodging offerings are required under law to comply with. What is also alarming is the number of establishments that make no mention of VAT (Value Added Tax). Could it be their annual revenue gleaned from rentals does not meet the minimum trading threshold of $80,000 per year.
In a surprising number of cases nightly rentals exceed US$400 a night, so a total of 100 nightly lettings annually would already place them in a VAT liable situation.
There could also be at least two other explanations. That many owners rent their individual properties through a villa/apartment/condominium agency, who then charge and account for any VAT element, or payment is collected offshore and therefore due taxes are avoided altogether. According to the Laws of Barbados – LRO 1997 – CAP. 342 section 25 (1)
‘No person shall operate any tourist accommodation unless that person first applies for and obtains a licence issued in accordance with the regulations’.
Section 33 (1) states ‘a person who operates any tourist accommodation in contravention of Section 25 is guilty of an offence and is liable on summary conviction to a fine of $10,000 or to imprisonment for 1 year and, where the offence is continued after conviction, that person is guilty of a continuing offence and is liable to a fine of $500 for each day during which the offence is continued’.
If tourism accommodation rental licensing remains a function of the BTA perhaps it would be cost-effective for Government to put more resources into what has clearly been an underfunded Quality Assurance department for as long as I can remember. From a marketing perspective, it also must be almost impossible to maximise arrival number potential and length of stay without having an accurate database of all lodging options. Government could easily recoup any additional expenses by levying a small registration fee and this would enable them to ensure that all minimum standards are met and effectively demonstrate the industry is properly regulated.
Once this takes place, I am sure the administration will then cast the tax net over a greater number of players and the monies raised from this exercise could be utilised to increase marketing of the destination, benefitting more people and showing some willingness by the policymakers to level the playing field.