One of the areas I think that we (Barbados) have not done as well as we could have, is getting across to our various markets that many of our tourism establishments do in fact offer value-for-money.
Over the years, we have spent hundreds of millions of dollars developing this image that we are, in some eyes, an iconic and aspiration destination.
For many, I am sure that rings true, but with most of our main sources of business under considerable economic pressure, with an ever higher percentage of regular travellers having to consider the cost of their annual holiday, is there more we can do?
Personally, I really think so.
Many eminent people and agencies have written on the subject of the tourism leakage effect, which varies greatly, but some estimate could be as high as 80 percent in the Caribbean.
In very simple terms, it is what visitors spend on goods and services and the proportion that is re-exported in many cases to pay for what they are consuming here.
According to a UNEP (United Nations Environment Programme) report, the highest overall leakage is with all-inclusive package tours, perhaps not surprisingly. The Tourism Concern organisation also concluded that all-inclusive properties employ fewer people per dollar of revenue and have a smaller trickledown effect on the local economy.
Our high dependency on tour operator generated business further compounds the inequitable situation.
So when our policymakers brag about annual tourism revenues of anything approaching BDS$2.4 billion, this graphically highlights the problem and far better analysis has to take place to ascertain the amount that actually stays within the destination.
If we are simply generating revenue, only to spend the majority of it on items that ultimately have to be imported and paid for in foreign currency, what are we achieving?
It clearly would be almost impossible to reduce this to zero, but certainly there is scope to reduce the current percentage. Producing more of what our visitors buy is the obvious solution, which gets us back again to value-for-money.
I don’t believe for a moment that our visitors expect to come to Barbados and be served, as an example, Aberdeen Angus steak, assume it will taste better and perhaps most relevant, for it to cost less than they pay at home.
Is this our perception of what visitors actually demand or would they be far more amenable to sampling locally available items, especially if they were far less expensive?
Smart linkages to other sectors are absolutely critical to our fiscal recovery, in the shortest time. While this seems such a blatantly obvious observation, I don’t always see it working to the very best effect.
It is estimated that approximately one-third of all tourist spending is on food, so agriculture seems the clear target to work with, to reduce imported consumables. But while this topic has been discussed at length over many years, progress appears slow to address this issue, perhaps because the sector appears fragmented and disorganised.
Is this just the perspicuity of those of us in the industry or based on the reality of the situation?