On this occasion of the BHTA’s First Quarterly General Meeting of the year 2017, we are pleased to see our members and partners here today and indeed I join in saluting all the women attending on this International Women’s Day (IWD) 2017. I salute all the women contributing to the tourism and the wider Barbados community whether at home or in the workplace and thank you for your sterling contribution.
#BeBoldforchange is the theme for IWD, forcing us to look at our role as women in a changing world and to prepare and embrace it. It is speaking to us in a personal way as Barbados is indeed in the fight of its life and we must not only be bold and ready for change but we are all going to be charged with the responsibility for managing change. Today we look at the issue of tourism competitiveness in the context of the economic environment we find ourselves in.
Our panel represents an accomplished marketer, human resource and labour relations professional, accomplished accountants, banker and economist - professionals who are in leadership roles in their various organisations because of their track records and their sound academic and professional backgrounds. Our prayer was said today by an accomplished tourism practitioner of over 30 years’ experience, voted Caribbean hotel worker of the year 2016. Individuals who are all Already Bold for change.
Our panel is Stacia Howard – an economist and Managing Director of Antilles Economics, Toni Moore - General Secretary of the Barbados Workers Union, Donna Wellington - President of the Bankers Association and in a taped presentation we have Petra Roach – Director, Barbados Tourism Marketing Inc.
Whereas our focus today is on the role of tourism and strategies for improving tourism competitiveness, we recognize we have to look at competitiveness in the current economic environment and we need to call on our private sector and other social partners to hear their views on how they can support the continued maintenance of market share and indeed growth for the tourism sector in this environment that we are in. There is no shame in asking for help once you have identified that there is a problem requiring your attention.
Stacia Howard will set the stage with the big picture look at the economy the human resource factor is our most important asset and our partner BWU has a significant role as always and perhaps even more so than ever to help guide and shape the workforce with a look at productivity and competitiveness and the interrelationship there and, especially in light of the challenges that face us. Donna Wellington will address the matter of financing and some of the strategies that the banks are employing to assist the sector, while Petra’s presentation will be focused on refocusing our attention on the changing market place out of the US, Barbados’ fastest growing market.
As you listen to the issues addressed in the presentations, I suggest to you that you may want to challenge your organisation to measure how well you are doing in the areas covered and determine what you need to do. Are we really doing the best job that we can to improve our competitiveness? Do we know where our competition comes from inside and outside the region? Within Barbados should be we cooperating better to make the destination more attractive to deal with the real competition outside our shores?
This is perhaps why the focus on looking at the ease of doing business in Barbados and identifying low hanging fruit with respect to projects and strategies that are stuck in the system waiting for action, approval or simply someone to get to it, is so critical. Can this crisis we are facing really force us to deal with the reality of how inefficient we have become and how that, if addressed, could give us a fighting chance to move forward?
The Social partnership recently met after a long hiatus in activity and with an excellent presentation from the acting Governor of the Central Bank, Cleviston Haynes, saw what we considered a realistic picture of the state of the Barbados economy and it is not a pretty picture. Our reality is that the tourism sector has to call on all the resources to assist us in increasing what we earn in foreign exchange and ensuring that the country can earn enough to pay essential bills. Are we spending more than we earn and can we possibly take the decisions required to close that gap?
The Social partnership has tried to move from a talk shop to a structured approach to working on the two major areas of concern - the increasing deficit and the declining foreign reserves. It provides a framework for structured exchange of information between the partners and for actions to be monitored and reported. The Barbados Hotel and Tourism Association has been asked to participate on one committee focusing on foreign reserves. The committees have representation from the Central Bank and Ministry of Finance. The Bankers Association under the leadership of Donna Wellington and the BWU along with CTSAB (observer) attended the first meeting directly after the social partnership meeting. Dr. Louis Woodruff from the Ministry of Finance participated in the working group as well.
No single solution or individual can solve the issues at hand so we are depending on our membership and other private sector organisations to feed in ideas or input on where bottlenecks in the system are hampering business and the inflow of foreign exchange or where holes need to be plugged. The BHTA will never say no if asked to participate in a national effort, especially now to metaphorically put out a fire that is burning.
Indeed we feel that persons in all four or five sides of the political divide must cast off their party cloaks and start manning the hoses. We are asking our members to up their game, we have to increase our efforts and agitations for a more efficient and effective way of doing business in Barbados, while challenging ourselves to do better. There is no shame in asking for help. Today we look for help and to dialogue with our partners and look forward to some constructive solutions to help us move the sector and country forward.