Economy diversification for Barbados: What India’s Royal Enfield can show us

UPDATED: April 23, 2012

With all the talk of hotels failing and our tourism industry on the ropes, we revisit this article by BFP reader West Side Davie. If not tourism as our mainstay of economic health, then what?


by West Side Davie

The recent budget speech and the acknowledgement that our tourism mainstay is feeling the impact of the global financial troubles has again produced calls for the diversification of our economy. “Diversification” sounds so reasonable when talked about in general, but when you ask people for some suggestions their reply usually includes two standbys: “manufacturing” and “something other than tourism”.

Something “other than tourism”

Barbados has tried a few “other things” that haven’t worked out – including the fairly recent failed efforts to make our island the call center capital of the world and the “stem cell research” capital of the world. In the end we always seem to fall back on tourism, rum, financial services and the dangling hope that sugar will “rise again”. Nobody talks much about the fact that most of our rum is produced with imported molasses and most of our sugar industry field labour is imported as well.

Regardless of the assurances on the Invest Barbados website that we are an ideal secondary manufacturing location, it is acknowledged that Barbadian manufacturers must compete with those from other regional and world economies, whose wage costs and other overheads are usually much lower. Then there is that low-productivity problem that various Bajan governments and Ministers have attempted to address in the last 20 years – but I for one haven’t seen positive changes on a scale worth talking about.

Truthfully when it comes to manufacturing, nothing has been the same since Intel shut down its Barbados facility in 1986 and moved the majority of its North American and Caribbean operations to Asia. It is that Asian competition from China, India, Malaysia, Singapore, Korea and lately Vietnam that convinces me that we must not allow ourselves to develop false hopes about the possibility of a rebirth of manufacturing in Barbados.

The lesson from Royal Enfield Motorcycles

A friend sent me the above YouTube video of a decorative painter at India’s Royal Enfield Motorcycles. Watch and you’ll see an amazing performance by a Royal Enfield employee – BUT – if you replay the video a couple of times and look at the facility, the product and the employees in the background, you might come to the same conclusion that I did…

Barbados hasn’t a hope of competing in the manufacturing industries.

Where does that leave us? I think we have to determine what it is that we as individuals and as a nation do the best at. Then we have to fully devote ourselves to being the best we can be in those chosen economic mainstays – and unless someone else has any other ideas, I think that means tourism, rum and offshore financial and insurance services.

The next time that someone says “diversification” and “something other than tourism” when talking about the Bajan economy and planing for the future, please ask them to be more specific. If your friends are like mine (and like our MPs), I think you’ll find that we’re out of ideas and out of time for big changes.

I’m not saying we shouldn’t be trying to put some other irons in the fire, but to let our tourism industry slide on the hopes of finding something else makes no sense.

In my opinion, we had better get back to doing our best at what we know best. Shore up the foundation before we start looking to build an extension on the home!

9 Comments

Filed under Barbados, Barbados Tourism, Economy

9 responses to “Economy diversification for Barbados: What India’s Royal Enfield can show us

  1. Pingback: India vs. Barbados: Workers pay the price for cheap labour | Barbados Free Press

  2. Machine like precision – yet how many does he do in a day? Knowing most Bajans, they’d want a Coffee Break after each one…

  3. BFP

    Ian… A coffee after each tank… or after each brush stroke? 🙂

  4. I know somebody,very very well, who does work just like that using an air brush, or a tattoo gun. We do have people like that around; the one I know is a born Trini. He never does any primary markings, on a car bonnet, motor cycle tank, or on you arm, back or leg. It comes directly out of the mind, like the Amazing Jamaican lad who can fly over a city, and then draw it exactly, every building, every window. What a gift Huh ?

  5. Joyful Noise

    It is a gift Colin. Unfortunately I have no gifts like painting or music and I have no job either. I used to have a job. I used to have an old but serviceable truck. I used to have an old but serviceable wife.

    When the job went, so did she. It wasn’t a bad trade all considered. 🙂

  6. rasta man

    @joyful noise: You just made my day. Maybe you should try being a comedian.LOL

  7. Allergic to Work.

    Barrow’s socialist dream/mentality, instilled when Barbados became ‘We Country’
    has resulted in an inherent laziness among much of our population
    for two generations now.

    Until THAT is addressed, we shall remain full of Pride
    and lacking in Industry.

  8. watcher

    When you have foreign exchange controls it will eventually control you. Fixed currency with no place to trade Barbados dollars means the system was designed to get tourist dollars, not to have a export economy. Want to export, let the dollar trade freely.

    Tourism is all there is.

  9. victor

    Certain industries and farming in general are not happening in Barbados these days for the simple reason that the workforce got ideas above reality because of the tourist trade, a trade which is volatile and unreliable.

    I believe that there are plenty of people out of work now who could gladly work in a factory or on the land but the jobs just are not there anymore since the industries died down. They died down because Barbadian labour was so expensive. Bajans didn’t want to work for those low wages because the glitter of tourism-related industries offered a better opportunity and as a highly educated nation watching US television programmes featuring the good life, nobody wanted to go back to the past era of manual work, etc.

    So you get islanders from poorer economies trying to come in to take up the jobs in the manual sector but oops, not allowed a work permit. So how can these sectors survive unless say, Chinese bring in cheap labour and that is what is happening. It’s a small economy and if you subtract the jobs provided in the financial sector which are threatened by US and European sanctions on off-shore and tourism, what is left?

    International funding for “green” projects or “equality”- based projects is drying up due to the world recession and obviously Chinese or Indian governments are not interested in that kind of funding! They simply want to make a buck, using cheap labour.

    Some international foundation paid for the elevator for disabled or elderly at Speightstown library (which for some reason was put on the top floor) and probably contributed to the building of the Post Office and Library on the condition disabled access was granted. Yet the elevator has never ever worked since day one and I bet if you opened the door of the elevator on the ground floor there would be no machinery inside – so anyone who is disabled or elderly can’t get up to the library. Any urban architect can see for themselves that there are ramps from the outside so disabled can get to the front door of the Post Office but when they get there, what a shame can’t get upstairs to the library. Is this an example of corruption in local government or just of a short-sighted reliance on money coming in from outside?
    If this goes on, Barbados will go in one of three ways; concreted-over as a tourist destination (not long-term viable anyway); turn into a third-world country; or end up dominated by China. And even if the Chinese or other nations use Barbados as a money spinner. the value will be lost quickly when the island loses it’s charm due to being so built-up. Look what happened to Spain and the Canary Islands, so swamped by high built tourist hotels nobody wants to go there anymore apart from the low-end beer-swilling tourists.
    We have to accept that if there is any money left in government coffers it should be spent on making the island more self sufficient on a very basic level. It means growing our own vegetables instead of importing them from far away, being prepared to work for a lower wage instead of being unemployed and accepting that Barbados is not in fact just part of the US and that the American Dream just cannot happen on a small Caribbean Island – especially when off-shore banking will no longer be an option.

    An interesting thing is happening in Portugal at the moment. This was the country small as it is as tiny slice on the edge of Spain, which once was a great sea-trading nation, conquered half of South America, (eg Brazil) as well as other parts of the world like China. Now, however, they are in dire straights since joining the EU with false budgetary declarations and they are at rock bottom, on a par with Greece. But the Portuguese have bit the bullet and all of a sudden, the most favoured destination for summer holidays in Europe. Cheap, charming people, fantastic history and wonderful beaches and food. They, like the Spanish, built up huge tourist destinations for working-class people to have all-inclusive holidays in towering hotels, but not to the same extent and now the Portuguese are profiting by having cheaper prices for everything from a hotel room to a fantastic meal. They joined the euro but have accepted that they have to reduce their prices; everyone in Portugal seems to have realised that they have to accept the current financial situation in Europe. Whilst the Greeks are rioting, the Portuguese are saying “OK, we will work for less, come and enjoy yourself”.