Let me be among the first to congratulate a Minister of Tourism for embarking on a personal visit to all the hotels in his domain. He was quick to point out that this was not meant to be an inspection visit but rather a ‘familiarisation exercise’ to view ‘each and every tourism establishment first hand, to witness their successes and deficiencies and to meet with the hotel staff to find out about their challenges and working conditions’.
Personally I believe that this is absolutely critical if you are going to fully understand and guide an industry which dominates any country’s economy.
At this point I should make it clear that we are talking about the Seychelles, not Barbados.
Alain St. Ange, their Minister of Tourism was also accompanied by Anne Lafortune, the Principal Secretary for Tourism and Seychelles Tourism Board Chief Executive, Sherin Naiken and at the time of writing this column they had already visited 114 hotels. No mean achievement, when you think that the destination has various accommodation offerings spread across 16 of the 115 islands which make up the territory.
Over the last few months I have ‘discovered’ a whole range of tourism accommodation on Barbados that I never knew existed and am frankly pretty sure that many of our tourism planners are not aware of as well.
This of course poses both a potential strength and a possible weakness. The positive attributes are that we have a much larger variety and number of rooms than has been so far been calculated. Conversely, there should be a serious concern that all these unrecorded and therefore unlicensed lodging meet minimum health, safety and quality control standards.
Perhaps this is one of areas the newly formed Barbados Tourism Product Authority will play a pivotal role in.
It certainly presents a wonderful opportunity to build a website, in the absence of Ministry of Tourism one that clearly lays down the rules and regulations of operating any tourism accommodation, with the potential to register fire, health and swimming pool certifications and proof of public liability insurance online.
For a small annual fee it could also be entirely self-funding and even be used as a powerful marketing tool to illustrate our myriad of accommodation choices.
It would also give our visitors, especially those considering a first visit to our shores, a point of reference with some central evidence that all rental properties on offer which are listed carry at least minimum standards and in the event of stay not meeting reasonable expectations that agency could mediate with all parties involved.
With the phenomenal growth in websites like AirBNB the unstoppable genie out of the bottle and all ‘we’ can hope to do at this late stage is to better regulate the lodging component of our brand.
The objective should not be to frustrate those who wish to invest in providing alternative tourism accommodation, but to create a framework which encourages it and enables the marketing planners to make a meaningful contribution in promoting a wider choice.