I think the fairest way to answer this question is Yes! and No!
With a record marketing budget last year for the Barbados Tourism Authority, clearly Government has demonstrated that tourism is among its priorities. However, I would have to seriously question whether these funds are being spent in the most cost-effective way.
Widespread discounting seems to have become almost the national holy grail, and with no master plan appearing on the horizon to return the industry to viability, its difficult to know what more can be done.
The introduction of new air services especially from Canada has driven higher arrival numbers, but its southern neighbour, the United States is still a major market of great concern.
Yes! over 80,000 additional airline seats year per year from the US have been added, but from a market that has not performed in the past seven or eight years.
Impressive increases in US long stay arrivals for last October and November were reported, but still less than 50% of the overall increase in seats have been filled.
Delta Airlines have already reduced capacity and I am sure our tourism planners will be watching JetBlue, US Airways and even American Airlines very closely, as we once again approach the softer summer months.
Government is faced with the multiple challenges.
While trying to protect employment, with the loss of tourism earnings, which have been estimated at around $170 million by the Central Bank in 2009 and at the same time attempting to ensure that more hotels and tourism partners do not close their doors.
The introduction by Government of the Tourism Industry Relief Fund (TIRF) has given financial breathing space to some tourism partners who have struggled to maintain viability, but even that has its negative side.
Due to the high level of discounting, those hotels that have managed to retain rate integrity and economic occupancy levels by creative marketing, quality and cost control have been placed at a huge disadvantage to those tourism partners receiving subsidies or support.
Some 4-star all-inclusive properties that chose the discounting option are averaging rates that other 2-star room only hotels are achieving, who have not had the benefit of any Government or taxpayer support.
Therefore those businesses that have managed to remain profitable are cross subsidising tourism partners that currently are not.
This is clearly is not a viable scenario for middle to long term tourism survival.
There are of course other ways that Government can aid the industry, especially in what is undoubtedly going to be a long difficult summer ahead.
Our policymakers must evaluate which marketing support is going to give the best return on investment and keep monitoring projects so that every Dollar spent produces the highest net contribution.
Taxes levied on the tourism industry are a real issue and despite lobbying from all sorts of organisations, it has not been addressed adequately by successive Government’s.
Our politicians must eventually realise that there are only just so many ways you can extract taxes from a visitor. Make a destination
more expensive than it is perceived as value for money and you will simply perpetuate the status quo – and that for the majority of tourism partners are currently selling the product at below cost by applying taxpayer subsidies.
As a national policy this simply is not sustainable.