While uncertainty currently rules the day, there are still people out there with vision and the fundamental belief that our tourism industry will not only recover, but flourish in times to come.
For most of us, despite having traded though all the previous challenges including 911, SARS and others, the Covid-19 pandemic has been what can only be described as an earth-shattering wake-up call, severely questioning how we do business in the months or years to come.
Our own position is a classic case in point, having recently sold our small hotel, which hopefully sends a tiny beacon of hope that some return to normality may be in sight. To pretend this prolonged sales process was easy would be grossly misleading. It has taken an extraordinary amount of patience, compromise and understanding on both sides.
Are there lessons to be learnt from our personal experience, that may help others in a similar situation or those considering investment in our tourism sector generally, whether at a micro or macro level?
I believe YES, in a number of ways.
The first stumbling blocks are clearly the banks. Most of us can fully understand their reticence to provide loans and the circumstances that has led to this current entrenched position. It is abundantly obvious the need to ‘shop-around’, as the levels of caution vary enormously, depending on either the policies of the individual bank or key decision making personalities involved.
As an aspiring entrepreneur spanning over five decades, if I had accumulated $10 for every financial official who told me that the banks are not in the risk business, probably retirement could have been achieved sometime ago.
People of my generation saw the changes coming a long time ago. For me, it was when one of Britain’s largest banks, Barclays, took the decision to retire all their branch managers aged over 50 years. It seemed to defy any obvious logic.
At 50, or close to that age, the individual manager has acquired an invaluable local knowledge of the area his or her branch was located, the business movers and shakers, their track record and probable ability to repay any loans.
It was an early sign that things were never going to be the same again in the financial world and that what we had accepted as true ‘customer service’ had been lost, perhaps forever.
Next is our local legal fraternity. Competition, driven by efficiency, attention to detail, the ability to act in a timely manner and accountability has not yet universally arrived on Barbados, with perhaps a few notable exceptions.
And thirdly, but perhaps the single biggest obstacle to even the most ardent investor are the multitude of Government departments that you are forced to deal with. Persistent unanswered voice and emails and in the unlikely event that you can finally establish any form of human interaction, repeated run-arounds and lack of co-operation to achieve simple goals, except in the rarest cases.
Conversely, in our personal experience we encountered one or two outstandingly helpful individuals, but sadly not in any position of authority.
While there have been some bureaucratic improvements during the last four years, a great deal more could and has to be done to make Barbados a more investment friendly country, especially when the nation’s economic recovery depends on it.
In our technological world, every tool exists to make this possible, but it is frightening that ‘we’ seem to be incapable of implementing the fiscal environment that other countries take for granted and benefit from accordingly.