Remember the days when the only cable choice Barbadians had was STV (Subscription TV) and when CBC TV’s marketing tagline was “Reflecting The Pride”? If you do, chances are that you also remember when the slogan “Tourism is our business. Let’s play our part” was in its heyday. For decades, the slogan played a starring role in print, radio and TV campaigns designed to sensitise Barbadians about the need to be welcoming hosts to visitors who were enticed by Barbados’ “sun, sea and sand” offerings. The “tourism is our business” mantra has played a vital role in keeping tourism front and centre in the minds of Barbadians and reminding us of the very real importance of the industry that powers our economy.
Ignoring Our Mantra?
While tourism has certainly retained its spot as the most important source of revenue for Barbados, it seems that recently, a new generation of entrepreneurs has emerged. Instead of trying to entice visitors to our shores, these entrepreneurs have a vision of utilising technology to provide services to a global audience wherever they may be. This vision is not at all far-fetched since the Internet has transformed the global business environment, making it easier for local companies to do business with clients across the globe.
The Internet has also birthed a global market that has an insatiable thirst for apps and other technology products, and our tech entrepreneurs believe that Barbados can benefit tremendously by focussing attention on developing mobile apps, software and other tech-related solutions to consumers outside Barbados’ shores. If these “techtrepreneurs” had their way, they’d probably replace the “old faithful” tourism mantra in favour of something along the line of “Technology is our business. Let’s play our part”.
But tech-based entrepreneurs aren’t the only ones operating outside the parameters of the “tourism is our business” mantra. Despite many pundits’ claims that the manufacturing industry in Barbados faces an inevitable demise, many manufacturers still push on. Barbados is still home to a diverse range of manufacturing operations including rum, food products, furniture, paint, solar panels, LED bulbs and chocolate brands (yes, chocolate). These companies are making manufacturing their business.
But hold up! There are other non-tourism sectors vying for attention and championing their role as a revenue generator for the island. Take the international business sector for instance. According to some estimates, Barbados has assets under management in international banks and international business companies of at least US$44 billion.
And then there are opportunities for Barbadian entrepreneurs in the entertainment industry. And let’s be real here. Entertainment is a business. Rihanna is undoubtedly Barbados’ most well-known entertainment entrepreneur, but she isn’t Barbados’ first. Trailblazers such as
The Merrymen and Spice & Company along with more recent entrants such as Rupee, Alison Hinds, Nexcyx, Kite, Shontelle, Livvi Franc and a legion of Bajan DJs, producers and entertainers too numerous to mention have also made entertainment their business.
The list of non-tourism business sectors could go on and on. Opinions seem to differ greatly on which industries offer the most potential for the island. But perhaps this difference of opinion is a good thing. These divergent views may signal not a lack of focus by the business community, but rather, perhaps genuine interest in a diverse range of business opportunities that could lead to profitable ventures on multiple fronts.
Could business be our business?
Considering the wide range of business opportunities being pursued by savvy Barbadian businesspeople, perhaps we should “fill in the blank” with a theme that supports a wider range of entrepreneurs, innovators and business leaders. Perhaps our mantra should be something along the lines of “Business is our Business – Let’s Play Our Part”.
Okay, so it’s not like anyone really thinks that the original intent behind the tourism mantra was for Barbadians to focus on tourism at the expense of all other sectors. However, there may be a number of benefits to rallying around a theme which blatantly and unapologetically encourages us to focus on the wider theme of business.
For instance, a “business is our business” mantra could help to position a wider range of businesses as being important to our national development plan, and could send a clear message to our entrepreneurs, business leaders and innovators that we as a country support business development along multiple sectors. A “business is our business” outlook wouldn’t mean that Barbados should try to compete in every industry imaginable, but it would encourage us to judge every business opportunity on its own merit and potential for success – regardless of the industry in which that business operates.
Working towards a common goal
Another possible benefit of committing to a “business is our business” outlook involves creating a common space that unites both the public and private sectors towards achieving common goals. The reality is that the private sector simply cannot achieve its full potential without the support of the public sector. As McKinsey & Company notes:
“Public-sector innovation can reduce costs, raise productivity, and improve the public’s opinion of government…some of the most cutting-edge innovations have come from the developing world: governments that believe they have no choice but to take bold risks”
Having all sectors work closely together to reduce costs and raise national productivity could help Barbados compete more effectively on a global scale, and could also make the country even more palatable for international investors.
The Singapore Model
In recent years, it has become fashionable to reference Singapore as a country that is all about business. Singapore has found its own way of ensuring that the interests of the public and private sectors are aligned with each other.
In Singapore, civil servants receive bonuses tied to the country’s economic performance. Could such a policy help Barbados become more competitive? It’s hard to tell. Just because a policy works in one jurisdiction, doesn’t mean that it would automatically work in another jurisdiction. But the policy does at least give us a starting point for discussion on just how a country’s public and private sectors could work more closely together to achieve business objectives.
Where do we go from here?
Any (honest) marketing professional would tell you that it would take more than a catchy marketing slogan to consistently achieve our national business objectives, especially in a business environment that is more diverse, dynamic and competitive than it has ever been at any time in history. Even though tourism remains a primary source of revenue for the country, the reality is that the Barbadian business community is pursuing a more diverse range of business opportunities than it has in the past. Again, maybe that’s a good thing. Perhaps our headline act of tourism deserves a few good supporting acts. The trend of diversified interests is likely to continue as Barbadian entrepreneurs, innovators, corporate investors and other businesspeople all seek to take advantage of a business environment which is becoming more globalised by the second. While there will always be differences in opinion as to which path Barbados should take as it seeks to be more economically dominant, we can all hope for one thing: that all Barbadian enterprises will do their very best to succeed and “play their part” to make their chosen industry their business – and by extension, the country’s business.