During the 30 plus years my wife and I have lived on Barbados we have tried to take at least a couple of short breaks within the region or locally each year.
Having chaired, and or sat, on various tourism committees over those three decades and being a frequent commentator on the sector, I have always felt obliged to know as much about our tourism offerings as possible. And frankly, despite our combined work experience, neither of us has ever had any illusions that we cannot learn from others in the business and during that process, improve our own product.
Sadly, taxation imposed by consecutive Governments has now made flying within the Caribbean almost inhibitive, except for those with deep pockets, or having their travel paid for by companies or the state via the taxpayer.
As someone who has championed intra-regional travel for nearly 40 years, even before our re-DISCOVER initiative was launched, shortly after the tragic events of 911, it is soul destroying, knowing that as a direct result on ‘sky high’ airfares it has dramatically and negatively impacted average hotel room occupancy, especially in the softer summer months.
The current policy thinking appears to build more and more hotels up to 15 floors high, when we cannot even finish the ones that have been started, but now lay idle. The quoted $84 million said to have been ploughed into Sam Lords Castle and the promised five diamond 450 room Wyndham Grand Resort are glaring examples.
Imagine, just for a moment if that figure of $84 million is vaguely creditable, what could have been achieved, if spent creatively and cost-effectively marketing Barbados and filling the thousands of empty rooms we have across the island currently.
Of course, if our politicians were spending their own monies, very few of these gross errors of ‘judgment’ would occur, but while a relentless pouring tap of taxpayers monies are easily available, the status quo seems unavoidable.
We do not have to travel far to see proof of this theory.
After that infamous statement ‘If we had to be perfectly honest, St. Lucia is at least 30 years behind Barbados, in terms of tourism – that’s the reality’, publicly uttered by someone who should have known the truth.
Yet in 2017, according to Statista (the recognized expert statistics portal), revenue generated by that country’s hospitality sector reached US$801 million. Putting that in perspective, St. Lucia, with less rooms and airlift, generated within one fifth of the total recorded by Barbados (US$1.08 billion) for the same year.
My hope is that either the tourism trade association (BHTA) or an independent and authoritative body will commission a study to evaluate what a 10 percent increase annually in average room occupancy would produce in terms of profitably and overall revenue collection for both the private and public (taxation) sector.