Tourism Victim of Governments'/Industry Failures
The tourism industry is a sector of the leisure industry. Contrary to popular opinion, the Caribbean is not the exclusive reserve of white sands and blue waters. We were not that fortunate when the world was created. We are therefore in competition with ourselves in the Caribbean and tourists/leisure destinations worldwide.
Carnivals and festivals are also magnets for those seeking leisure. Although the Trinidad Carnival has been compared with others and some of its designers/band leaders have achieved international fame; we cannot claim it is the worldwide leader in this category. The Crop Over festival in Barbados is a major attraction for those living in the Diaspora, but it is still unclear as to the direction it is taking or being led. We can say that there has been no clear international marketing plan for Crop Over, since it was revitalized over forty years ago.
We are pursuing heritage tourism in Barbados; in Guyana attempts are being made to market their vast outdoors and eco- tourism and efforts are afoot in Dominica in similar areas. From this brief introduction, we can suggest that the entire Caribbean has a rich culture and can attract tourists and leisure seekers. The question is: Why an island such as Barbados, that had a jump start in this industry over sixty years ago, cannot or has not developed a tourism product that is attractive enough to ensure greater economic benefits.
We suggest there was a myopic view which held that tourists will have been forever attracted to white sands, blue waters and smiling faces. Research will show that although these seemingly simple factors do contribute, they certainly are not the domain of Barbados alone. Quite frankly, in recent times, the smiling faces have given way to some rather melancholy views about the industry; the white sands have receded because of poor environmental management and in the 70’s and 80’s , hoteliers in cahoots with successive governments branded the beaches as major areas of visitor harassment.
In a sinister attempt to destroy the economic activity of beach vendors, they succeeded in driving an almost unmovable psychological barrier between locals and visitors. The protest was captured in the Mighty Gabby’s calypso classic “Jack”, where the locals reminded the political managerial class and its cohorts that the beach “belong to we”. We are of the opinion that the hoteliers branded decent, honest, hardworking young Barbadian business people as negatives because they wanted to control the spending power of the tourists, since many hotels had boutiques, selling the same jewelry and other items the vendors were pedaling.
The refusal of the hoteliers and successive governments, to establish the vital link of agriculture and tourism also retarded the growth of the industry and prevented locals from sharing in its profits. Tourists were complaining of the high price of food and beverages for many years. However, it was believed that the beaches and sunshine “will keep them coming”. Greed and political inaction, guaranteed that local cuisine was not aggressively promoted and most hotels maintained foreign based menus, thereby sucking a great deal of foreign exchange out of the economy. Many locals were unaware that hotels were importing huge amounts of fish because the local fishing industry could not meet supply. Had the governments (BLP/DLP) invested or supported the development of a modern fishing industry, millions in foreign exchange would have been saved.
We are also aware that when poor marketing and political inaction caught up with the industry, hoteliers blamed its failures on the wages of hotel workers. They started to pressure governments and unions about how expensive Barbadian workers were. In other words they convinced the political managerial class that the industry could only survive with a cheaper work force. They complained it could only survive with lower electricity rates. They complained that crime was killing the industry. Our research reveals that Barbados has one of the lowest crime rates against tourists/visitors worldwide; we also know that middle management hotel salaries are not excessive. In terms of maids and other auxiliary staff, it is known that the level of education they have is far superior to similar workers in the industry in other countries. Furthermore, hotels in other countries employ emigrant workers at below minimum wages.
We are therefore convinced that if the tourism industry is in intensive care, it is a result of the following:
Failure of hoteliers in good times to modernize and upgrade their plants;
A psychological disconnect between locals and the industry because honest economic activity was sabotaged;
Extremely poor marketing at both the governmental and industry levels;
Failure to link agriculture and tourism when the industry was enjoying decades of growth;
Poor management of the environment;
Tardiness by both government and industry in promoting eco/heritage tourism;
Unnecessary blame of workers for government/ hoteliers failures.
We note efforts to correct many of the factors mentioned above. We can only hope they will not take another sixty years to bear fruit. We therefore conclude that political inertia and the crowding of state tourism agencies with political / party personnel, coupled with poor marketing and visionless management of hoteliers, squandered the great head start Barbados had in this multi-billion dollar industry. We hope other Caribbean islands, as they build their tourism product will look at the Barbados model of non-development, in this industry, and avoid the same mistakes.