The Underground Tourism Sector

stmsc-r-sealy-dlpLet me be among the first to congratulate a Minister of Tourism for embarking on a personal visit to all the hotels in his domain. He was quick to point out that this was not meant to be an inspection visit but rather a ‘familiarisation exercise’ to view ‘each and every tourism establishment first hand, to witness their successes and deficiencies and to meet with the hotel staff to find out about their challenges and working conditions’. I believe this is absolutely critical if you are going to fully understand and guide an industry which dominates any country’s economy.

At this point I should make it clear that we are talking about the Seychelles, not Barbados. Alain St. Ange, their Minister of Tourism was accompanied by Anne Lafortune, the Principal Secretary for Tourism and Seychelles Tourism Board Chief Executive, Sherin Naiken and at the time of writing this column they had already visited 114 hotels. No mean achievement, when you think that the destination has various accommodation offerings spread across 16 of the 115 islands which make up the territory.

Over the last few months I have ‘discovered’ a whole range of tourism accommodation on Barbados that I never knew existed and am frankly pretty sure that many of our tourism planners are not aware either. This of course poses both a potential strength and a possible weakness. The positive attributes are that we have a much larger variety and number of rooms than has been so far been calculated.

Conversely, there should be a serious concern that all these unrecorded and therefore unlicensed lodging meet minimum health, safety and quality control standards. Perhaps this is one of areas the newly formed Barbados Tourism Product Authority will play a pivotal role in. It presents a wonderful opportunity to build a website, in the absence of Ministry of Tourism one that clearly lays down the rules and regulations of operating any tourism accommodation, with the potential to register fire, health and swimming pool certifications and proof of public liability insurance online. For a small annual fee it could also be entirely self- funding and even be used as a powerful marketing tool to illustrate our myriad of accommodation choices.

It would also give our visitors, especially those considering a first visit to our shores, a point of reference with some central evidence that all rental properties on offer which are listed carry at least minimum standards and in the event of stay not meeting reasonable expectations that agency could mediate with all parties involved. With the phenomenal growth in websites like AirBNB the unstoppable genie out of the bottle and all ‘we’ can hope to do at this late stage is to better regulate the lodging component of our brand.

The objective should not be to frustrate those who wish to invest in providing alternative tourism accommodation, but to create a framework which encourages it and enables the marketing planners to make a meaningful contribution in promoting a wider choice.

22 thoughts on “The Underground Tourism Sector

  1. Pingback: The Underground Tourism Sector

  2. @Adrian, I do not share your enthusiasm re the Seychelles’ Min of Tourism.

    On the other point , I can certainly agree. That genie is out and about.

    So my query to you as an expert; how does the BTA or BTPA (I can’t keep up) plan to include the ‘rooms availability’ from the many accommodations shown on AirBNB?

    Is this even something of note in their planning?

    We can all recall that during World Cup frenzy there was a direct and loud call for Bajans to offer accommodation and then the gov’t said nary too many words about “minimum health, safety and quality control standards”.

    I readily appreciate the issues but I have heard or seen nothing from Gov’t. on this burgeoning new tourism product. Some of the images shown and locations offered are of absolutely well appointed apts on the beach or rural areas at very good prices.

    Of course, a hotel offers more but these are viable alternatives and surely the fee paying hoteiers like yourself can’t be overly happy at some of the competition – small though it be.

    re Seychelles…As described by you an expedition such as that could be described as a political boondoongle.

    That level of micro operational review is not the purvey of a government elected official but rather his/her technocrats and leaders in the field. Surely sample visits of the destinations could achieve that same goal.

    Are those actions now the base level standard for every other Minister after him or is this what they do over there to get a chance to visit the various islands?

    If our loca minister did that, surely some here on BU would attribute ulterior motives and lambast his backside.

  3. @ David

    You are wrong. The reverse is true. Politicians cannot even go to the bathroom without the permission of the ‘senior public servants’.

  4. @ David

    No, we have been in the business of doing certain work for many years and with many governments.

    And it’s always the same. The politician will talk a good game but as a practical matter unless the public servants, provide the meeting, the funding, the bureaucratic process, the legislative basis, nothing will happen.

    Most times when politicians are elected with all types of grandiose manifestos the promises fail because the civil service has no way or desire to implement them. They might not make sense to the civil servants.

    David, a politician, any politician, does not even know what to do with a project proposal unless a department or PS first do a white paper or something and agrees or seek to bring it into the light of day.

    Why do you think that Harry Lewis, the late, was so indispensable to both the Bees and the Dees? Not even the great Tom Adams could do without him, but he tried!

  5. @ David

    We think politicians are blamed too much. That blame is too often informed by a misunderstanding about the functions and powers of the civil service. More importantly, the nature of politics and the gaps between mindsets.

    In short, we would prefer to have a ‘centre of influence’ as a senior civil servants rather than the prime minister of president of any country.

    If you doubt us, ask Bizzy or COW or Kiffin!

    • @Pacha

      You have made BU’s point, where is the leadership coming from the civil servants to which you referred? The service has been manipulated to see political partisan appointments.

  6. @ David

    It’s never so simple.

    It maybe better to see the civil service/servants as having soft power to influence the perceived hard power of politicians. In between, there are many dances always going on. Sometimes either side wins but the civil service sees politicians come and politicians go. Their mindset maybe to wait them out or frustrate them, politicians.

    Fundamentally, our system is skewed in ways that have us overly attributing blame to the politician. A political system which encourages blaming them in this way. A misunderstanding of the role of civil servants. And a lack of public accountability for senior civil servants. Servants who the politician has no power to fire but could only transfer. Transfer alone does nothing about the culture even when the new appointees maybe supporters of the party in power.

    The politicians should act to reduce people’s assumptions about the nature of political power, its limits. To do this will have implications for perceived power relationships.

  7. Sometimes when you open a door or, in this case, a thread you never know what you will find.

    Very clear and accurate remarks re the civil service and surprisingly candid ones re “our system is skewed in ways that have us overly attributing blame to the politician”.

    These comments and David’s ” the service has been manipulated to see political partisan appointments” are an entire elaborate thread in itself.

    Surely though as much as Pacha’s remarks re the power of the service to frustrate and to direct agendas are unequivocally sound, it is also abundantly clear, as evidenced by the cases of former COP and former SOI and the overall CLICO mess that there is genuine and irrefutable leadership from some controlling group when required.

    Whether that is from the politicians, who come and go, or from some group of permanently entrenched operatives (other than the service) is unanswered.

    The true Bajan all-encompassing ruling elite! Who are they?

    • @Word

      The Official Secrecy Act ensures the system of governance we hold so dear defends its lack of transparency.

  8. I have stayed in a few of both in Barbados. 1st a hotel/resort is a different vacation experience than a private(AirBnB/VRBO/etc) rental, and I like the option of both depending on my needs. 2nd Probably the majority of unreported rooms cater to the relatives of locals who cant really afford Bds prices and so appreciate the service. 3rd When choosing a private lodging one generally expects less. Unfortunately it is the hotels/resorts that are not up to par with competing destinations and there’s where a minimum std needs to be pushed for. Seriously, most of them are way behind the constant effort to stay current I find in competing destinations. 4th the visitors who stay at private lodging are spreading far more foreign cash into Bds, they are not prisoners inside a resort, they go out and buy local food/groceries/etc.. 5th they have been in existence at longer than AirBnb has, before the internet existed, and so forth. So to suggest that they are new is a bit…

    • As a destination we have to determine the product we think we can fashion to give us an edge in a crowded space. We can’t compete with the 4 and 5 star offered by Cancun and DR.

  9. David April 20, 2015 at 11:29 AM #

    The Official Secrecy Act ensures the system of governance we hold so dear defends its lack of transparency
    Interesting observation. Who exactly in Barbados , other than members of the Defence Force , are signatories to the Official Secret Acts ? Because the things revealed during election campaigns, and afterwards, would suggest that even Ministers of Government are not signatories, or do not respect the Official Secrets Act.

  10. We wish those well. People who think there could be anything secret in Barbados. We have never found that anybody in Barbados could hold a secret for more than a few minutes. Or that there is any information not available by merely asking.

    The fiction that a government could get to keep anything secret in this small island must mean that this Act is part of the form, not function.

  11. Are you surprised ,David? As a tourism plant, we are as rundown as our industrial and cane plants.
    Barbados needs a face ,arms ,feet and torso lift.
    Bridgetown is rundown
    Speightstown is run down
    The Garrison is run down
    Long before the sargassum weed came ,many of our beaches were run down.
    Many of our so-called tourist attractions could do with some overhauls, not to mention some low-tech removal of unsightly garbage and litter.

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