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**

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

It Is What You Do And The Way That You Do It: Tourism Diversification

Today's papers have a report of comments made last week by the central bank governor after the release of the latest economic review (see Advocate article, for instance). His essential point is that Barbados is not necessarily disadvantaged by its heavy reliance on tourism. He touched on the fact that Barbados had "not explored fully the possibility of diversification within the tourism industry" and he "does not believe that enough has been done to develop other areas, and appeal to the interest of other tourist segments". He cites events such as Crop Over, noting that this is "a market that was stumbled upon". Now, to the extent that the central bank is an arm of government policy, it's interesting that Dr. Worrell should step into this area. I know that he is interested in the many fine aspects of Bajan and regional culture, so I feel his heart is in the notion that these things, in their broadest sense, should be made available to visitors, who can support the country with their foreign exchange and patronage, as well as being available to locals to enjoy for their patronage and whatever spending they too can generate.

We are still waiting to see a strategy/policy for tourism out of the Ministry of Tourism, and the floundering in this area does not inspire confidence that anything clear will emerge any time soon.

Various commentators have mentioned previously new tourism ventures and areas of interest such as 'heritage', sport', medical', 'educational', 'religious', 'cultural', all of which could offer important niche opportunities for Barbados. What exists is really piece meal and it's not clear that the various actors really take account of much other than their own self interest.

It will be good to follow this discussion in coming month, not least to see if the government and the major current players in the tourism sector manage to clarify who and when they will target--the Caribbean diaspora/Bajan locals for 'staycation', or non-Caribbean foreigners, or particular groups from wherever (e.g., US colleges, churches, etc.).

It is clear to most people who have visited other Caribbean resorts that Barbados does not offer the average tourist much more than sun, sea, sand, sex, and food. Barbados also has a reputation for being expensive, so when visitors come they are predisposed to seeking value for money. But is that what they really have on offer? One of the weaknesses of the market for cruise passengers, for instance, is that there is only a pitiful range of goods that could be shown off as generating retail interest--and please do not talk about the craft market. Broad Street is not attractive, with a poor selection of outlets. The disparate offerings of attractions are a real bugger's muddle. Take a look at some of these: Harrison's Cave has been closed most of the past three years; the Concorde Experience is like a white elephant trying to hide. I read recently that Harrison's Cave will be due for a 50% increase in entrance fees--whenever it reopens. I also read that the airport authority does not allow the Concorde exhibitors to advertise in the airport, so passengers/visitors with some time to lose at the airport are unaware that next door there is a wonderful attraction. It's another example of how the tourism product has not been bought into by people and institutions at a national level.

Maybe the Governor needs to help push together some of the heads to think along a set of similar lines so that their ideas can be funneled well. But, that would be so much easier if we had that oft-promised tourism strategy. Why are we still waiting for that?


Sargeant said...

I think that I heard one of the members of the former Gov’t say that the Concorde was going to be the centerpiece of an aeronautical museum so far there is the sum total of one plane. It is a good one time experience but it could be promoted better. I read a report that NASA is selling retired Shuttles and the price has dropped from US 42 Million to US 28 million, now that would be a centerpiece for a museum…. alas they are only selling them to US citizens or US institutions.

Ian Pickup said...

I would be interested to know what you define as "a pitiful range of goods", and what you might suggest to enhance the general retail offering. I am serious about this, because I agree that more needs to be done to persuade the cruise passengers to part with their money. It is well recognised that there are serious problems with Pelican Village, due firstly to its location, and secondly to its unwelcoming design. Until that problem is overcome, however, we need to do more. So any suggestions would be helpful.
Ian Pickup

Venturemike said...

It has always struck me that the island could do a lot more to help itself on the tourism front. You point out some of the lame ducks but there are lots more. Whilst I might participate, as a visitor, in the delights of the sun, sea, sand and sex that you mention, I also am fascinated by the whole island’s history and culture and what it has to offer – so I always set out to take a look at places like Tyrol Cot, or the Grenade Hall Signal station or the sugar factory and frankly, am often struck by how lacklustre the presentation is – as if someone has decided to open it up to the public but no-one there is quite sure why. No guidebooks, no enthusiastic tourguides- almost as though the powers-that-be can’t quite see why someone would be interested enough to come and visit. Even the George Washington house and the Barbados Museum – nicely done up but almost empty when I visited them.

You guys need to shout your history from the rooftops, be proud of what you can show us – and don’t let the idle tourists just sit on their cozy sunbeds which is, of course, what the conglomerate hotels make them do, so they spend their money only in the hotel gift shop. You, Dennis, have often commented on the two-tier economy, the rich tourism trade and costly beachside homes on the one hand and the indigenous society, often much poorer, on the other. Rather than never the twain shall meet, there ought to be much more mixing of the two – a real celebration of your incredible society – I don’t mean more Friday nights at Oistins or more jewellery stalls at hotel open nights, I mean real chances to get under the skin of the Island.

However, I shuddered a little when I read the call for “new tourism ventures” recalling what happened to islands like Cyprus and Ibiza when they tried to shift tourism focus...rows and rows of burger bars, shops selling beach trinkets and masses of cheap ‘nite spots’ giving rise to drunkenness and increased crime. And now, in much of the Spanish costas, rows and rows of empty jholiday homes You already have St. Lawrence Gap – be careful for what you wish for ...you might just get it!

Barbados is a lovely island – obviously with lots of administrative shortcomings – but go easy with the radical solutions.

Dennis Jones said...

@Ian Pickup
I will post some views in response to you here, but if you contact me by e-mail (livinginbarbados@gmail.com), I may also offer you additional comments.

Dennis Jones said...

@Ian Pickup

On retail offerings:

* Nassau's East Bay St. is a model: strewn with many high quality outlets, offering well known international (especially high-end) brands, and it's clear that duty free reigns (though The Bahamas is completely duty-free).
* Bridgetown lacks attractiveness, and does not have a 'come and shop' feel. Holetown, by contrast, is better set up, though on a smaller scale: do cruise tours go there, routinely?

A British tourist, who visits Barbados often, commented to me by e-mail that he is struck by the oft-cited lack of service and the huge variability in service: "You can go into Cave Shepherd and get really polite and efficient service...you can go into another retail outlet and find complete indolence." He found a sense of world weariness or maybe just plain laziness in selling the goods whether it’s an actual product or an historic site. He found this a notable contrast to other locations in the region. He noted that the hotels have the same problem. His stay at a hotel "was pleasant enough because of the surroundings, but the staff attitude and the ambience you could cut with a knife". He would not return their, even though he knows the owner. Is the problem that the staff just feel so ‘safe’ in their jobs? He wondered about the mindset, which seems caught between knowing the difference between being ‘subservient’ and ‘proud to serve’. His overall view was that if Barbados could get this right it could be the envy of the world. But he saw the key as getting buy-in from the whole population, a point I have made often. But, notably, he observed that on his past visit, in 2009, he sensed an even stronger sense of unrest among the young, especially the young men – resentment even – against the foreigner.

Sargeant said...


He wondered about the mindset, which seems caught between knowing the difference between being ‘subservient’ and ‘proud to serve’

The reality is that many see Tourism as a “necessary evil”, that mindset often drifts to the subconscious and is manifested in the attitude of some who benefit from the industry.

I don’t know what level of training the “Service Industry” provides to its workers but I can see where the visitor was coming from. That approach is prevalent among some employees even when those who consider themselves to be locals (and I call myself a local) patronize some establishments. Ask a simple question and you get the rolling eyes, knowing looks and snickers behind your back. The Tourism business is a mature enough business where the operators in cooperation with Gov’t should be investing in its workers; investment to the tune of it being mandatory for all employees who interact with guests to attend a one or two week training course which covers the basics of providing good service and courtesy. I would include some front line clerks at other retail establishments whose attitudes in some cases are downright atrocious. I would make it a badge of honour for a business which supports such a program to display signs extolling the virtues of the training that its staff received at xxxxx in order to serve their customers better. Govt’s involvement in this could be providing space at the BCC or the SJPP or any local school or even subsidizing the costs. I could see the bartenders, waiters, front desk employees and senior employees being in the same class so the sense that we are all in the same boat and we all depend on each other can prevail. The timetable for classes could coincide with the slow period in the industry. I used to work for a major International Corporation and part of the budget was set aside for retraining and upgrading of employees in their public interaction and even then we still made mistakes some of which caused considerable embarrassment to the organization. Without that training would we have made more? Probably; did the training help? Yes it did and when our courses were internal we would always have a senior executive in attendance and I – a mid level employee- was able to interact with them to understand their challenges and I ensured that they understood my challenges.

That said I don’t want to tar everyone with the same brush, there are many places which provide good service and my experience at the aforementioned Concorde exhibit was a pleasant and enjoyable one, but the good experiences tend to fade away while the bad ones are retained in my memory.

Dennis Jones said...

It's worth taking a look at Wayne Capaldi's views, in a piece entitled Are We Pursuing The Right Strategies? (see http://www.businessbarbados.com/wordpress/?p=524).

acox said...

@dennisjoneswe are on the same page on this one about customer relationship.