As more and more tourism businesses indicate they are re-opening, hopefully over the next few weeks, our policymakers and planners will instigate a single source reference website or other social media platform to combat the mass confusion and speculation as to when our industry is ready and able to host locals and overseas visitors.
Meanwhile, potential arrivals are left to navigate a bewildering source of what, in many cases, turns out to be misinformation or at least misleading. Especially relevant when you bear in mind the overwhelming majority of people do not book flights at a day or two’s notice and cannot necessarily choose holiday dates at short notice.
Of course, it all comes down to safety and most reasonable people can fully understand Government’s reluctance to commit to specific dates before every possible precaution preventing the further spread of Covid-19 is put in place. And this even more reinforces the essential need to implement a single reliable source for the latest factual information covering every aspect of our tourism offering.
What is also disappointing is that there appears to be no unified regional plan to re-open Caribbean islands to the world. A recent statement issued by LIAT to the Leeward Islands Airline Pilots Association indicated ‘the need to extend the temporary layoff of its pilots for three months’. Adding that, it was still awaiting further shareholder funding or subsidies and ‘these funds continue to be delayed’.
Even allowing for the differential in available medical and testing facilities, every territory seems to be doing its ‘own thing’ in terms of accommodation and airlift. Perhaps, many may question whether bodies like the Caribbean Tourism Organisation (CTO) could have played a greater role in recovery and if we can ever seriously contemplate marketing the region under one umbrella.
The CTO rightly could cite limited financial resources at this difficult time as a major issue for not being more collectively proactive, but there is always something positive that can be done with the combined talents and knowledge available.
Naturally, each island state has its own priorities in terms of economic recovery, the survival of businesses and restoring employment, but surely a greater degree of unity when negotiating the return of airlines and standard safety protocol could be agreed?
There also remains the sticky subject of taxation. In the case of Barbados, since October 2019 the imposition of a bevy of new taxes and levies has virtually negated Government from any significant fiscal contribution to marketing the destination. Throughout the duration of lockdown this valuable source has virtually dried-up and while the operating expenses that include staff salaries and premium location premises, both at home and overseas of the Barbados Tourism Marketing Inc., and its associated agencies have remained, clearly there must have been some significant savings in advertising and airlift support.
When flights eventually return, will the administration look again at the level of taxation imposed on airfares which includes Value Added Tax (VAT) and two departure taxes, among others, to aid recovery?
We should remember that our traditional sources markets have all experienced loss or depletion of earned income and unprecedented levels of unemployment for a sustained period and that will inevitably impact on destination choice.