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Commentary: Tourism Matters: There has never been a more important time

By Adrian Loveridge

According to media reports on the Estimates, the amounts of BDS$87.7 million has been awarded to the Barbados Tourism Marketing Inc (BTMI) for the fiscal year 2017/2018 and BDS$8.6 million to the Barbados Tourism Product Authority (BTPA).

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Adrian Loveridge has spent 46 years in the tourism industry across 67 countries, as a travel agent, tour director, tour operator and for the last 24 years as a small hotel owner on Barbados. He served as a director of the Barbados Hotel and Tourism Association, and as chairman of the Marketing Committee. He also served as a director of the Barbados Tourism Authority and is a frequent writer on tourism

At first, certainly in the case of the BMTI, these seem like very large amounts of money, but when you put it in absolute perspective, it really only equates to average spend per long stay visitor of around $154 and that takes absolutely no account for the net financial contribution of the cruise passenger and crew contribution.

For some obscure reason the Barbados Statistical Service no longer posts arrival figures and other critical tourism information on their website, so the industry is largely left to speculate about the hard facts and figures.

Second guessing is not helpful.

2016 is a classic case at hand and if you troll through our various media sources, quoting prominent political figures, long stay arrivals for last year are stated at anything from 610,000 up to 631,520.

Also missing from the picture to show if these figures injected by government are reasonable and sufficient in relation to the amount of taxes, net VAT earnings and foreign exchange generated!

The taxpayers’ contribution also does not take into account the enormous amount of money, tens of millions of dollars ploughed into the promotion and marketing of both the individual product and destination by the private sector, this despite the outstanding and yet unpaid VAT refunds due to the sector.

Often forgotten too, is the massive support given by the Tourism Development Corporation (TDC) through corporate Barbados, as in the case of our re-DISCOVER initiative, making the critical difference whether the promotion is ongoing and remains viable at all.

To the TDC’s further credit, their audited accounts are on the website for all to see at the end of each financial year.

The other question that has to be asked and I think sufficiently explained is exactly how the budget of the BTMI and BTPA is broken down and what it is spent on?

What proportion is devoted to administration, salaries and operating expenses for instance?

During the short time I served on the board of the former Barbados Tourism Authority, I recall seeing some audited accounts, but these should be a matter of public record, accessible on a website, so that every industry partner and the taxpayer can scrutinize them.

Of course, there are areas of specific non-disclosure, like the exact amounts ‘given’ in route support to named individual airlines, but I am sure there could be some blanket figure, clearly indentifying these sensitive and sometimes controversial payments.

What has any government to fear with this information being more widely available if it helps strengthen the overall contribution to the national economy and helps makes the tourism sector stronger and more viable?

As we rapidly approach the end of the peak winter season, every person, whether in the private or public sector, worth his or her salt will be focusing on just how and what we can collectively do to maintain arrival numbers during the long eight summer months.

Perhaps there has never been a more important time than now, since independence, when we need a flourishing tourism industry?