First in the interests of establishing impartiality, I think its important that I point out that I have never been a member of a political party during my sixty two years. I vote, whenever practical, because it is seemingly my only tiny contribution to maintaining anything close to a democratic system and consider it both a right and a civic obligation.
When the current administration swept into office just a month short of five year ago, while observing entirely from a tourism perspective, a number of stated objectives were contained within their manifesto. Included in these were to ‘restructure and strengthen the Barbados Tourism Authority’. At the time I remember asking the then Chairman, what was the time frame for this re-organisation. His reply still resonates in my ears. ‘Six months’ he confidently responded.
We all realise now that it wasn’t to be. And that has left me asking the same question over and over again. If a private sector entity, spent hundreds of million of dollars, employed upwards of 150 full and part time employees, consultants, contracted the services of advertising agencies, public relations companies etc., and didn’t produce any real growth for nearly five years, would it be deemed a failed business model?
Is it not overdue that the mandate of the BTA is revisited, to see if it can play a greater role in generating increased visitors, extending average stay and influencing a higher per-capita spend?
Has in fact, any administration sufficient will and determination to address this issue and implement meaningful change?
We are told that the much vaunted Tourism White Paper will appear during the first quarter of next year. But is this yet another woefully optimistic promise and how close to reality is this statement?
Only the Prime Minister can call an election and if the information contained on various Government websites is accurate, that requires a timeframe of a minimum of three weeks and a maximum of six.
Presumably, any draft white paper will have to be debated in both sections of Parliament and then circulated throughout the industry for comment. Is it therefore even feasible or practical that this can be done, bearing in mind Parliament’s seasonal recess and that constitutionally, a general election must be held by April 2013. Once the ‘bell is rung’, the House of Assembly will be dissolved.
So not only are ‘we’ not likely to view even a draft document on where this industry is going, but the probability of enacting a Tourism Master Plan appears almost as remote now, as it was half a decade ago. Many within the industry, whether currently employed or victims of the downturn, want to see in which direction we are heading and ascertain if there is a future for them in tourism.
Those who have dedicated years of study at university, perhaps enticed by the constant message that this sector is our main foreign currency earner, want to know their time has not been wasted and ultimately there will be career opportunities.
The dismal failure to restructure the BTA cannot be one of the many issues blamed on the global recession. In fact, if anything, it was even more critical to ensure that our national tourism marketing agency effectiveness and performance was dramatically enhanced. This may prove to be one of the biggest lost opportunities in any period of governance.