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.







**You may contact me by e-mail at livinginbarbados[at]gmail[dot]com**

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Time To Get Down To Business

I am not a great lover of mass tourism, and I have a strong belief that one of the wrong turns that Caribbean countries made in recent decades was to put so many of their eggs into the tourism basket. I also feel that in this region we have a hard time distinguishing between service and servitude, and so, having to deal largely with visitors of European-heritage creates a horrible social and sociological tension that is hard to deal with.

I think that our focus on education has been right but we should have led our economies toward services that exploit that high quality education, such as finance and science, that allow us to excel intellectually, but not necessarily through our people skills, which need major retooling as we move from rural servitude to urban service. My focus on this has been sharpened due to some incidental contacts in the past two weeks.

Over the past week, I've met with a couple of Americans working for major financial firms, and coming to Barbados to check on how their local financial relations are doing. The US corporations are involved mostly in investment advice and some portfolio management of corporate and private clients in Barbados. Apart from saying what they had looked at specifically for their companies, I was struck by what they had to say in general about Barbados. For one man who was here for the first time and relatively new in the business, he thought that the beaches were great and the Hilton hotel was nice. He could not wait to come back and was telling all his friends on Facebook what a great place it was to visit. Those things are not trivial, as they represent the front end of the tourism sector.

Another visitor, who visits every three months and has been here a few times, was impressed that the variety of restaurants was so good, even though he noted that some high-end and very reputable restaurants had closed during the past year. He was due to have dinner on the west coast and we agreed that his choice of Tides was a great one. We discussed what had gone wrong to lead to the closures of such local icons as Aqua and The Restaurant at South Sea.

Neither said a word about building up Barbados' financial sector, and I did not ask so wont draw too many conclusions from that omission. But, I suspect that they do not see Barbados as offering any real competition to what they are offering out of their New York City bases.

Ironically, Barbados just had its Barbados International Business Association Business Week Conference, at the Hilton. The sector is very significant, and contributed 15.2% to GDP. One of my contacts had provided a speaker for the event. I saw that my friend, Prof. Persaud, was also there chatting up a storm about the need for financial services to bolster the economy (see Advocate report). He is reported as saying:

“...financial service is the right business for Barbados to be in”, and “We need to stop promising to set up an international financial centre service commission and actually do it. The moment is here, it is now, it is not going to come back,”... and with no sugar coating, We fall down in Barbados in that we have a vision but we are poor at the execution, which is not new. We need to find ways of improving how we execute. I have been thinking, ‘How can we do regulation in a way that allows us to execute easily?’" He also pointed out that it seems to take a crisis to get action moving in Bimshire, but that a crisis gives little room for manoeuvre. No disagreement from me on any of that.

I just wonder if Barbados is ready to grasp what is an opportunity that will not last long. It is amazing how quickly people can see how the open goal turns into a half chance. But, as I was taught, if you assume that you only get one chance a game, you are already ready to shoot on goal and often score from that mental preparedness. I get the impression that Barbados is still in the way of thinking that opportunities will recur with a certain regularity rather than the more pessimistic idea that this may really be one of the last chances.


walter edey said...

Tourism as currently defined has a built in sociological prejudice that filters outcomes - both planning and service which may take a major transformation in attitudes, if we are to get maximize return on product.

Perhaps, we should get into the " Foreign Exchange Earnings Services - FEES -Business, which could still include Tourism as we know it. FEES plant would move from sea and sun to - Samuel Jackman Polytechnic,one/two day services etc. Persuading the vistor to empty their pockets before departure. What if we had 100 "Jones" per day selling a package of broad experiences at $25a head. The embedded value in your experience is "surpassed expectations." Remember,your recent taxi experience. You never said that you tipped him, but you can't stop talking about it?


Dennis Jones said...


The FEES notion is there in things like medical tourism, and sports tourism of a certain form. You can see it too, in an extended form when one offers facilities such as Ross University in Dominica. One Jamaican banker had a similar idea of training US nurses on Jamaican soil: get the FX from US traineeds and keep skilled national staff at home instead of filling US hospitals.

The notion of getting visitor to spend is good and needs to be fully understood: Bermuda is a good example where it's part of the ethos. But it is sometimes too well utilised in some places, as the beach higgler stealing can justify that he/she is 'benefiting' from tourism that way.