For the past nine winters Douglas Edmondson has chosen Barbados as his escape. That makes him a very special friend indeed – especially in these difficult times. He obviously loves Bajans and Barbados, so we should probably pay close attention when he speaks.
Take it away, Mr. Edmondson…
Re: “Tourism’s high end market good area to place focus” of the February 14, 2012 Barbados Advocate.
Many of the leadership in Barbados, like Deputy Governor of the Central Bank, Harold Codrington, are under the illusion that Barbados is known for luxury accommodation. However, a search on TripAdvisor.com shows Barbados rates no better than four and a half out of five stars. By comparison, a bottom end mass tourism market like the Dominican Republic has over a half dozen five-star hotels.
There is a belief among the leadership that the luxury market here will attract high net worth tourists who will spend a lot. But the truth is, this kind of tourist spends most of his or her time within the luxury resort or spa only leaving on occasion for a round of golf, a polo match, a visit to the new Limegrove Centre, or for a change in restaurant.
In contrast, it is the middle class tourist who gets out and visits the Cheapside or Brighton markets, Sunbury or St. Nicholas Abbey, Gun Hill or the Barbados Wildlife Reserve as examples. In so doing, they rent cars, buy petrol, take taxis, shop for groceries, shop for souvenirs, visit local bars and restaurants, and therefore spend and put money into the local economy.
The same is true of the cruise ship market. A wealthy few arrive in their yachts while the middle class exit their cruise ship in large numbers and do their
touring and spending.
“The political and business leadership are also under the illusion Barbados has high quality infrastructure.”
There are individual resorts or businesses that do, but visit any public beach and you will find tired, aging facilities with some toilets or showers that are not working, and picnic benches that need repair or replacement. The coastal roads are potholed, narrow, with open ditches in places. I scarcely dare mention the giant pothole at the parking lot entrance to the Queen Elizabeth Hospital. So the completion of the Four Seasons Resort or Beachlands will not only increase traffic congestion and tie-ups on an already inadequate road infrastructure, but will also push property prices further beyond the reach of ordinary Bajans.
Everywhere I see the same lack of upgrading and maintenance to building infrastructure. The Hotel Caribbee and the Empire Theatre are falling into decay, and are only two of myriad examples. Take something as simple as the labeling of plants and trees in the botanical gardens or forests like Welchman Hall, Grenade Forest or Andromeda. As plants or tress have died and been replaced, the labels are not changed to reflect the changed plantings.
The root of it all is not just a lack of money, but a lack of caring by too many people. How else can you explain roadside litter not picked up, fishing in so-called protected marine areas, or a mangrove swamp without access to the ocean.
There is too much of a ‘Union’ attitude here in Barbados where the only concern is better wages or working conditions, but not how to be more efficient and to achieve more with fewer resources so that the company can thrive and grow and ultimately provide more real jobs for Barbadians, and not the underemployment so evident now.
Barbados is known for civil servants who are slow to process paperwork, and business contractors who are slow to complete projects. So slowness and inefficiency are found at all levels of society.
In regard to business and political leaders, it sometimes seems that the purpose of meetings at the various hotels is to enjoy a good meal – as a business expense for businessmen and at taxpayer expense for politicians – rather than to make decisions and take action.
In the words of a Country and Western song, Barbados needs “a little less talk, and a lot more action”.
High end tourism market a dead end for Barbados
To conclude, pursuit of the high end market is a dead end for Barbados in my opinion. With the economic success of Brazil and Mexico in recent years in the Americas, and the huge expansion of the middle class in China and India, it is easy to see that is where the focus should be placed. And a whole new vision is needed for Barbados if this demographic is to be attracted.
I realise that as a tourist who has visited Barbados in the past nine winters, my comments may seem too critical. But it is because I love Barbados and its people that I hope my comments will be seen as a call for improvement. For Barbados is not a paradise, or even a potential paradise, but simply a paradise lost if Barbadians don’t wake up.
This letter was also published in the Barbados Advocate