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Commentary: Tourism Matters: Credit where credit is due
Published on August 26, 2013 Email To Friend    Print Version

By Adrian Loveridge

I commend the government of Barbados for lowering the rate of VAT on ‘hotel accommodation’ and especially extending the same 7.5 percent to the direct tourism services. This should relate to meaningful savings for our visitors and even, to a lesser degree, help encourage domestic tourism.

Adrian Loveridge has spent 46 years in the tourism industry across 67 countries, as a travel agent, tour director, tour operator and for the last 24 years as a small hotel owner on Barbados. He served as a director of the Barbados Hotel and Tourism Association, and as chairman of the Marketing Committee. He also served as a director of the Barbados Tourism Authority and is a frequent writer on tourism issues
From the various social media sites, it is already clear that regular repeat guests will be watching very carefully that all tourism partners benefitting from the reduced tax level will pass it on.

Restaurant dining, car rental, reduced attraction entrance fees, activities like catamaran cruises, etc., will all be more affordable and hopefully the overall spend will not fall significantly across the board.

The critical element now is to get this improved value for money into the marketplaces, by every means possible.

Linking particular months with events, especially in the longer leaner periods, at first, makes logical sense, but I think this concept has to be constantly analysed, to ensure any national ‘investment’ is proven to be cost effective.

This year with Crop Over is a classic example. Despite all the predictions and post event accolades, July 2013 recorded the lowest number of long stay visitor arrivals across the last 11 years in any same month.

I touched on our tourism performance in September 2012, last week, so today I wanted to cover land based arrivals for the same year in October and November.

Both again, alarmingly, recorded their lowest comparable monthly figures during the past decade.

November, which was already down 9 percent or 4,233 persons fewer when compared with 2011, is especially concerning, as substantial funding was ploughed into the Barbados Food Wine and Rum Festival.

You have to ask the question, if projects like this do not substantially increase numbers, average spend and stay, what are ‘we’ doing wrong?

While all these ‘concepts’ need time to reach potential, considering the festival at that time was in its third year, ‘we’ appear to be light-years away from the prophecy that it could ‘be one of the biggest foreign exchange generators for Barbados’.

This year, in addition to this event, there is another Rihanna concert, which hopefully will make a positive difference. But if we are partially relying on regional visitors to guarantee its success, let us hope that LIAT has its huge challenges under control by then.

Taking an almost brand new aircraft, with a book price of US$19 million, out of service for at least a week to replace an engine, while at the same time chartering the other ATR to the president of a country that your largest shareholder (Barbados) does not recognise, has to raise questions.

As a result leaving hundreds of taxpaying passengers, who guaranteed the loans for the new planes, abandoned across the Caribbean.

Again, in the budget, substantial further funds have been promised to the Barbados Tourism Authority over the next 18 months for debt repayment, marketing and promotion.

But with the touted loan not even in place yet, it’s clearly going to take some time to effectively implement, meaningful and responsive programmes, which stand a chance of making a positive difference.

The result appears almost inevitable that we are going to enter another winter with the prospect of declining arrivals and perhaps just as critically, reduced revenue, profitability and occupancy.

This is not painting a doomsday scenario, but an attempt to send a wake-up call to our policymakers and that we can no longer keep on doing things the same way and expect different results.
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