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Dennis Jones is a Jamaican-born international economist, who has lived most of the time in the UK and USA, and latterly in Guinea, west Africa. He moved back to the Caribbean in 2007. This blog contains his observations on life on this small eastern Caribbean island, as well as views on life and issues on a broader landscape, especially the Caribbean and Africa.

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Monday, February 09, 2009

Barbados: What Rat Race?

As is often the way, a remark by a friend set me thinking. She said that she had been grateful to get away from the rat race in Barbados over the past few weeks. "What rat race?" I asked. The bucolic place I know has no rat race. What empirical evidence I have of rat racing is mainly from the constant 'busy-ness' of those expatriates who are here. I take my cue from the general atmosphere of 'work, but not too much' that is usually evidenced by the emptiness of streets and darkness of offices from around 5.30 pm (just ahead of sundown--I just came from an early evening walk and got more proof). Dark should catch you in your own house, or having some fun. When I went to collect my daughter from her after-school activities this afternoon, I noticed that the beach was full with dark people. I surmised these to be locals not by their colour but by their 'uniform', that included the ritual plastic hats. I also saw a good crop of youngsters walking home from the beach, with their bodies still wet. That's how rats race here.

Barbados is proudly touted as one of the world's premier tourist destinations. It cannot match places like France, that gets 75 million visitors a year, or Germany and the USA that have about US$75-80 billion in tourist spending [out of a world total of around US$ 750 billion, of which Europe accounts for about half] (see World Tourism Organization statistics). Barbados' nearly 600,000 visitor arrivals by air is low in absolute terms compared even to most non-US islands in the Caribbean region (see Caribbean Tourism Organization data); Bim gets about an equal number of cruise visitors but as these people do not stay and given the paucity of shopping or other attractions for a short day trip to the island I wonder about including them. The Dominican Republic (4 million), Cuba (2.2 million), Jamaica (1.7 million), The Bahamas (1.2 million) are each a good way ahead (and I am not including Cancun and Puerto Rico, with 1.5-2 million each). But for enough people, mainly Britons and Canadians, Barbados is where to go to get away from their miserable winter weather and their rattiness. In total, visitors spent (2006) about US$760 million in Barbados and restaurants and hotels contribute about 12 1/2 percent of GDP (see Caribbean Tourism Organization data for 2006).

But, for us who live here, is Barbados somewhere where we can get away from ourselves and each other? A lot of locals talk about going to St. Lucia (often for jazz events), or to Trinidad and Puerto Rico (shopping), or the USA (shopping), or St. Vincent/Bequia (relaxation). I sometimes hear people here talk about a day spent at Miami Beach--Barbados--or Brighton Beach--Barbados. People, take other day trips to enjoy the tourism sights that are here, such as Harrisons Cave, or Earthworks pottery. They enjoy the festivals that bring in regional and other tourists, such as the Jazz Festival or Cropover, and of course, when Test cricket is in the island many will take time off to watch the matches or visit to follow the series. Enjoying the treasure you have is important, but it is a common failing that people take their surroundings for granted, and leave it to outsiders to show their appreciation.

The issue of domestic tourism is an important one, especially when world economic conditions are worsening, which means usually that people are less keen to spend on foreign travel or make so-called 'discretionary spending'. Barbados is in a doubly bad situation because this factor will be pushing down possible tourist arrivals, and the weakness of the pound sterling and the Canadian dollar against the US dollar since the middle of 2008 will also make it harder for those who have those currencies to consider visiting Barbados. For those living here, all we have to suffer (and it is a bit painful) is the cost of local living.

We need to think more about taking vacations in the island. On the bigger economic scene, 'domestic' tourism ought to include intra-regional travel (which means all of us taking more vacations within the region too), even though that is not easy or seamless with the unerring help of our principal regional carriers, LIAT, Air Jamaica (who seem to be abandoning the region for the northern skies) and Caribbean Airways. Caricom visitors make up about 21 percent of visitors to Barbados, and in recent years have been by far the fastest growing group. The figures are elusive but I heard that Caricom visitors to Barbados spend about as much as US and Canadian visitors.

I have written before about the need to make the heritage aspect of tourism much better and that is something that could make for a more interesting visit to this island and others, notwithstanding the emotional pain it may hold for many. People who visit the picturesque island of Goree, in Senegal, never cease to leave without a moving experience of how gruesome life was when they see where slaves were held and from where they were pushed to land in the ships to cross the Atlantic.They can quickly move to other thoughts with the gift shops and bars and restaurants on the island, but they always have imprinted on them an important piece of the world's history.

Funnily enough, a friend made a proposition last week to think about booking a house and spending some summer holiday days in Cattlewash, on the east coast, if there were no plans to travel abroad. Well, for me that would be an oh-so-easy decision, as I love this island's east coast. I regret that the friends we have in Bathsheba are not around on a constant basis, dotting time here with an assignment in Trinidad, as I always love just gazing out across the Atlantic. Imagine it though for a few summer days. Barbecuing and jerking and stewing. Cooking in other ways Jamaican and Indian and Bajan and Trini food. Drinking wine and beer and juice. Telling jokes and stories. Discussing world events. Insulting each other. Forgetting about school activities. Limited dress code. What a good way to spend a few days.

1 comment:

Blogival said...

Interesting post. I am a Bajan going to college in the states. You make a good point abut more Bajans going out to local venues. We need to put more money back into our locally owned business.

When I moved back to the Barbados I intend to start a Dance night club. Its going to be hard at first but I have cousins and friends who go clubbing every weekend so I should be able to get a good group of patrons at the start.

I'm starting a blog about Caribbean events in the Towson/Baltimore area. This actually my first blog comment. Do you know of bloggers who blog about my topic by anychance?