During the last 31 years whilst residing on Barbados and an overall total of 50 years since actively promoting the destination, I have witnessed many Ministers of Tourism come and go. Many, far more informed persons, will judge their individual contribution to the overall betterment of the industry and any lasting legacy they personally have left.
I sincerely wish the new Minister all the very best in the world during these unprecedented challenging times and let no-one labour under the illusion that any single person can remedy or return our tourism offerings to anything close to normality in the short term.
For me, two past Minister of Tourism’s stand out in the crowd, the late Sir Harold St. John and Peter Morgan. For the simple reason, that they both had the amazing ability of patience to listen to all persons, at every level, within the industry. This did not necessarily translate that they would incorporate ideas proffered by those people, but the mere fact they felt included, made all the difference.
They both also returned phone calls and/or messages, leaving even the seemingly lowest level of tourism worker feeling that their contribution was important. I earnestly hope that this level of response returns to the Ministry of Tourism, especially now that it probably has the largest number of staff employed during its entire history.
When in 1989 we purchased the then derelict Arawak Inn, Sir Harold was a frequent visitor, giving us incredible encouragement, even at a time when his family’s property was a direct competitor located just half-a-mile away. Since then, Ministerial visits have been a rarity.
Over the last few years the lodging economic landscape has dramatically changed with the two largest hotel groupings now being foreign owned. This will of course significantly affect how they both respond to the current Covid-19 pandemic, being able to source capital offshore at considerably more competitive interest rates to assist them through the recovery period.
Our indigenous hotels and other accommodation providers on the other hand, will have to continue their battle with the banks authorized to operate on-island, subject to existing lending terms, which are almost impossible to meet during current times.
We too, also have to realize that there are certain integral component parts of tourism that cannot be directly controlled, like airlift. Until infection numbers substantially reduce in our key markets and people regain the confidence to travel, we can only implement policies that re-assure any potential visitors, that everything possible to protect them locally, has been put in place.
While Government has done an extraordinary job in limiting the local damage of Coronavirus, we are still fighting the perception of risk, compounded by the economic realities of higher unemployment and depleted earned incomes from our source markets.
Other countries have turned to stimulating domestic tourism to partially soften the blow and mitigate the loss of jobs. ‘We’ have so far chosen not to and time will tell if this was a wise decision.