I have always tried to stay away from the various personalities that have been entrusted to guide our number one foreign currency generator, but it would have been almost impossible not to comment on the remarks accredited to the outgoing Chairman of the Barbados Tourism Industry recently. If accurately reported, there certainly was some very robust, and frankly, blunt language used to describe the agency as, ‘a slothful, wasteful and inefficient organization in an increasingly dynamic technologically-driven and commercial industry’.
Perhaps, in less colourful words, this has been stated by many in the sector repeatedly over several years, so why is it after more than three years at the helm, only being recognised now? And if you analyse the figures, why were corrective measures not put into place much earlier?
After assuming the position of Chairman of the Barbados Tourism Authority in May 2011 that year only recorded two months of long stay visitor decline. However, by April 2012 Barbados witnessed a reduction in arrivals for 21 consecutive months. Sadly the release of tourism numbers seem to get later and later each month, with the May 2014 figures taking a staggering 60 days to be posted on the Barbados Statistical Service website. But all the indications are that so far this year the best we can expect is a ‘flat’ performance. Equally important to highlight is that during the third year (2013) of the official’s tenure, Barbados registered the lowest stay-over arrivals for any one of the last 11 years.
Some months ago the Barbados Tourism Authority finally published a list of licensed hotels and a limited number of other accommodation providers. Sadly, I only saw it in the press and failed to understand why the agency did not post this latest listing on the official website, where the majority of the end users could access this information at any time prior to booking.
There seems absolutely no point having a national website unless it is maintained. A simple example is that three months after being granted unilateral extraordinary concessions Sandals Barbados does not yet appear on the visitbarbados.org, accommodation section. In fact, the site is so far out-of-date the location is still shown as Casuarina Beach Club, even ignoring its brief history as a Couples Resort.
It is quite frankly staggering the array of alternative accommodation that is widely advertised on the Internet, with absolutely no indication whether these properties meet the same insurance, fire and health requirements that our registered lodging offerings are required under law to comply with. What is also alarming is the number of establishments that make no mention of VAT (Value Added Tax). Could it be their annual revenue gleaned from rentals does not meet the minimum trading threshold of $80,000 per year.
In a surprising number of cases nightly rentals exceed US$400 a night, so a total of 100 nightly lettings annually would already place them in a VAT liable situation.
There could also be at least two other explanations. That many owners rent their individual properties through a villa/apartment/condominium agency, who then charge and account for any VAT element, or payment is collected offshore and therefore due taxes are avoided altogether. According to the Laws of Barbados – LRO 1997 – CAP. 342 section 25 (1)
The blogs can of course be a double edged sword. The anonymity allows, if the contributor wishes, comments to be made without risk of targeted personal attacks and political labelling while still being able to express an opinion, whether constructive or not. Sadly, if you chose not to hide behind the veil of ‘anonymous’ it holds the risk of the messenger being castigated, rather than evaluating any merit in the message itself.
For those of us who hold democracy dear and have personally experienced alternative regimes, it goes with the territory and if it helps maintain responsible freedom of speech then personally I have no problem. A recent blogger, writing under the name of ‘Fisheye’ put forward 16 points to improve our tourism offerings. To me, one especially stood out and that was to allow our visitors to complete the required immigration form online.
Bearing in mind the rapid trend in online transactions, whether for banking, bill payment, shopping, airline or hotel check-in, car rental registration or whatever, it seems a very simple but effective way to capture important marketing information. It may also speed up the collection of this information to allow the Barbados Statistical Service (BSS) to make it publicly available in a timelier manner. It can often take the BSS ages to post arrival information on their website and even then, months like August 2013 are not available at all. Compounding the difficulty in accessing up-to-date information is the fact that the Ministry of Tourism does not currently have a functioning website.
If there was a single phrase to describe this winter tourism season, I think it may be great expectations. Despite all the wild speculation which included ‘this November has been one of the best Barbados had seen in a while’ being made by tourism officials, the month in fact ended by recording the lowest long stay visitors for any November during the last 11 years. It also heralded 20 consecutive months of stay over visitor decline.
As this is the latest in a long line of unfulfilled predictions this year, is it time for our policymakers to focus more attention on what can be achieved, rather than drift into the realms of prophecy and conjecture. I wonder just how much longer we can go on trying to justify rewarding failure. So much is riding on the performance of our tourism sector over the next 120 plus days leading up until next Easter Monday on 22 April, not only in terms of occupancy, but in the critical role of trying to claw back lost revenue from the last almost two lean years.
In our key market, the United Kingdom, traditionally there is a booking surge when tour operators step up their promotional activities on Boxing Day. But one of the largest travel companies, Thomas Cook, pre-empted its competitors by launching a massive sale, two weeks prior to Christmas to tempt the bargain hunters into commitment for summer 2014.
When I Googled “Barbados All Inclusive” yesterday [17 November 2013] I clicked on the barbados.org link, then http://www.barbados.org/allinclusive_vacations.php#.UoohrxaSKRY,There I found a list of 8 all-inclusive resorts, I then printed pages 1 to 3 of the 5 pages. On the printed page 2 of 5, the same two pictures of the two kids and the two adults which appeared on the website were printed – and, unbelievably, under those pictures there is an ad for Transat Holidays for – SAINT LUCIA!. A copy of the printed page is attached. When I revisited the same page this morning, and printed page 2 of 5, the Transat/Saint Lucia ad was replaced with an Air Canada/CIBC ad. Copy also attached. Apparently barbdos.org sells ad space to travel organizations which rotate and appear only in the printed material.
I suggest it might be timely for those who control barbados.org, the “Official Website of the Barbados Tourism Authority“, to do a bit of due diligence into the workings of its website.
Excerpts related to tourism Budget Speeches 2008 to 2012:
There are some critical national concerns and a Tourism Master Plan is currently being designed by a new Unit in the Ministry of Tourism designed to look at our tourism development strategy in a holistic way addressing our product, land use policy, marketing, carrying capacity and linkages to our other sectors and the lives of Barbadians among other matters.
The expansion of the luxury tourism market will include the construction and opening every two years of a major internationally branded luxury hotel and associated branded residences catering to the five-star and ultra luxury tourism market.
The expansion of the luxury room stock will also assist in the establishment of the Health Tourism market in Barbados.
I [the late David Thompson’s first budget] have just returned from a CARICOM Heads of Government meeting at which tourism, regional and international transport were discussed for one full day. Some important decisions were taken including the commitment to a regional brand, the establishment of a Caribbean Tourism Marketing Fund and discussions are taking place between LIAT and Caribbean Airlines Limited on their future together – Budget 2008
Last month the Canadian Tourism Commission, the Crown’s corporation which acts as a national tourism marketing board for that country, announced that it was going to stop advertising in the United States. I am sure it took many by surprise.
The Ottawa Sun seemed to capture the spirit behind the decision with a bold headline screaming ‘Ottawa no longer wants to waste time and money trying to lure American tourists to the land of moose, mountains and Mounties’.
At first, this decision appears to defy any logic. An immediate neighbour with nine times your own population, a staggering 316 million potential visitors on your doorstep. Among the justifying reasons were that the typical US visitor spent, on average, only US$518 per trip to Canada last year, the lowest amount spent by any international visitor group. By contrast, tourists from Brazil spent an average of US$1,874 per trip.
I am a concerned admirer of Barbados who reside abroad. The slowly deteriorating economic situation on the island leaves me in bewilderment because there seems to be a lot of talk and no action. Nearly every day I read in the online press about more layoffs and business closures. Most of the writers on the blogs seem to be more keen on casting political barbs at one another than of providing creative, useful comments that might make Barbados better.
My profession has always been travel to the Caribbean and in Sweden. I see movement in the right direction from Aruba, Curacao, The Dominican Republic, St Lucia & Jamaica. I see nothing from Barbados. Barbados has a lot to offer the visitor. Unfortunately, the BTA does not seem to know their targets nor do they produce relevant information for their partners who sell the destination. Families, singles, honeymooners, wedding couples, seniors – all relevant market groups.
Government’s budget setting out the Estimates of Expenditure and Revenue for the financial year 2013/2014, lists that ‘a subvention of $101.7 million has been provided to the Barbados Tourism Authority to facilitate marketing and promotion’. At first, it seems, a simple enough stated intent, but what does it really mean?
‘Marketing and promotion’, what will ultimately be spent on these two critical functions after all other expenses are taken out? Salaries, per diem allowances, the much vaunted restructuring costs possibly including an allowance for severance, consultancy fees, lease payments on luxury SUV vehicles, recent office moving expenses, outstanding debts, overseas offices, depreciation, interest. The list goes on and on.
Perhaps even more pertinent, will the budgeted amount even actually be available to the organisation? Or will they become cash starved again, before the end of the next financial year contributing to another near devastating fall in arrival numbers. Bearing in mind the fragile state of the industry, wouldn’t it also be wise to ensure that the private sector is fully informed of any recovery plans to ensure limited available resources from them is not squandered by duplicating efforts.
I suppose you can put it down to my naivety, so long in coming, so many great expectations and then in hindsight, the reality of the situation. Almost 40 percent of the eligible electorate chose not to vote, the status quo re-elected for a second term by a precariously small majority and just microscopic adjustments made to the governance of an industry in crisis. At least, that seems to be the scenario, so far.
Clearly there are plus points. Senator Irene Sandiford-Garner, appointed as a Parliamentary Secretary in the reconfigured Ministry and Tourism and International Transport, when many of us years later are still puzzled why the two bodies were ever separated in the first place. The Senator brings her abilities in marketing to the table at a time when this discipline is needed more than ever.
Shadowing the Ministry is Member of Parliamant Santia Bradshaw and while I don’t want to diminish her abundant legal qualifications, I am far from convinced we need or want any more lawyers involved in tourism policymaking. But she is also an entrepreneur and after looking at her website, I was personally impressed with the high level of presentation. Hopefully she can add value and youthful objectivity to the sector from a constructive opposition stance.
Like Hants, CTO’s initial reaction was kudos to BTA – finally some Barbados promotion; particularly given the absence of BTA advertising in the Toronto media over the past several months. It is interesting to read the 2011 Totally Barbados article which includes the following
As we have now crossed the halfway stage of the winter tourism season, it is looking increasingly doubtful that any predictions of a strong performance in this sector will become a reality. The January long stay visitor arrivals figures are especially alarming. An overall fall of 8.2 per cent across all markets, but significantly of concern are the numbers from Canada, which saw a 18.4 per cent fall when compared with the same month in 2012. The USA was down 11.1 per cent, the UK down 2.4 per cent and Trinidad down a staggering 40.6 per cent.
Whoever, assumes the office of Government later this week will finally have to take a long and hard look at current marketing strategies, and even if this is deemed an imperative, there is very little likelihood that any measures implemented at this late stage will make an iota of difference before April 15. So the next challenge is the eight long softer summer months.
After five years in power the outgoing administration had seemingly abandoned any attempt to fulfil their previously stated 2008 manifesto objective, to restructure the Barbados Tourism Authority. This despite an overwhelming mandate to effect change, yet surprisingly, its popped up again in the 2013 manifesto.
Is the predicted 6 or 7 percent fall in long stay visitors during the month of January directly as a result of reduced promotional expenditure by the national marketing agency, and if so, has anyone put a dollar value on the consequential loss of tax revenue collected by Government?
Is this yet another example of a failed policy decision, as when Government increased the level of VAT, only to find the overall amount gathered, went down and not up? According to the Central Bank (CBB) from $683.4 million in 2011 to $666.6 million in 2012.
A 6 percent decrease in arrivals when compared to January 2012 would represent 3,157 less people and 7 percent 3,683. Last January was already down over the previous year, albeit only by 0.8 per cent according to CTO figures.
What we should be asking is how much those missing thousands would have spent and is the current dearth of funds to the Barbados Tourism Authority actually costing the industry and the nation’s coffers more than we can imagine.
A photo clip on CNN during the US elections showing a little girl crying because she was sick and tired of hearing the news associated with President Obama and GOP candidate Mitt Romney election campaigns has prompted this blog. Like the election vitriol, the incessant reactive rhetorical rantings emanating from Barbados’ sidewalk superintendents and armchair supervisors about their destination’s tourism industry have become inordinately objectionable and are turning off would be visitors.
The recent adverse comments posted by visitors in Trip Advisor about their ruined holiday experiences in the Gap also do not auger well for Barbados and further aggravate the situation. Both groups paint an unsavoury image – all is not well in Paradise, serious plant deterioration is occurring, and Barbados’ tourism continues to be like a ship in a tempus, floundering aimlessly without a rudder.
The reprehensible behaviour is causing irreparable damage to Barbados’ reputation as a holiday destination and in the long run will be extremely costly to repair. To get an impartial evaluation of the state of Barbados’ tourism industry, a consultant involved with the marketing and promotion of Caribbean tourism was interviewed and asked to give his thoughts and insight on the challenges Barbados faces for the future.