A good representative cross-section of Barbadians, including key stakeholders showed up and spoke out last night as members of the public discussed the future of the tourism sector at a town hall meeting at Solidarity House, St. Michael.????
The meeting, which featured the Tourism Discussion Document as a starting point for the debate on the sector, saw various interest groups represented.?? Students, business persons, the elderly, the disabled and some concerned Barbadians shared passionate views on what needed to be done to create a more inclusive industry.
Minister of Tourism, Richard Sealy, who opened the proceedings and welcomed the audience, made it clear that everyone’s opinion mattered and he looked forward to varying and enlightening comments.
"In developing a more comprehensive document, a white paper, we need to have input from the widest possible range of individuals and entities …. in a very real way, we all have a stake in the tourism sector," he remarked.??
He said he was encouraged by the outcome of last December’s meeting, which saw a packed room and myriad suggestions from those present.?? They included ideas that ran the gamit from sustainable tourism, and further development of St. Lawrence Gap, to safety and security and the marketing of the tourism product.??
The Minister commented that the response from attendees, both during and after the event, reinforced the importance of town hall meetings
"What was very interesting is that many people came up to me [at the last meeting] and said that they had been involved in the sector for 30 plus years and had never had the opportunity to come to a forum like that and talk about tourism and have government officials [available for dialogue]," he noted.?? Mr. Sealy urged those present to state what was on their minds and for more than three hours, both men and women, the young and the old, did exactly that.
Roger Knight opened the floor with his concerns about beach access for Barbadians, and cautioned that the cultural relevance of the sea to locals should not be overlooked.
"I grew up beach fishing, especially at night, and I find that recently, especially with the conversion from hotels to condominiums, that you’re being built out.?? Sometimes it makes you feel uncomfortable, like you’re trespassing. So, I’m hoping that when tourism is being developed that access is being taken into consideration…development should be inclusive not exclusive, and that is what is happening.?? My solution is there must be some legislation that states that there must be a space between buildings, not just for [beach access] but for emergency services as well," he stressed.
The President of the Council of Hotel and Restaurant Workers, Philip Bostwick, made a passionate plea for there to be greater respect, mobility and opportunities for workers in the industry.?? He also stated that those within the sector needed to be better equipped to communicate with non-English speaking visitors.
"I work in a hotel, and people from Russia are coming here, people from Argentina are coming here and there is a serious language barrier," he emphasised, a point which was supported by another audience member, a young entrepreneur involved in translation services on the island.
The disabled community, which was specially invited to the evening’s proceedings, was well represented and they, too, made a number of suggestions for the improvement of the sector.?? David "Joey" Harper, the President of the Barbados Council for the Disabled, spoke about the need for disabled persons to be considered as viable workers within the sector and also highlighted key issues for tourists who are physically challenged.
"If we are going to make sure that the disabled community is going to travel we must be sure that the destination they are coming to is accessible…we have been very casual towards persons with disabilities…the disabled community needs facilities too," Mr. Harper underscored.?? He added that suitable accommodation had to be made for such travellers.
"We have to see that it is not only about ramps.?? It is not only about being able to walk into Bridgetown, it’s about being able to shop in Bridgetown…we have to respect the parking areas set aside for people with disabilities ….we want to recognise the different dimensions of access, which is physical, vision, hearing and cognitive.?????? They are all different, they have different needs… [the disabled] want to be active and inclusive in our society, and they also want to be sure they have transportation available," the Council President said.?? He called for provision to be made for the hundreds of disabled persons, visually impaired, those in wheelchairs and otherwise, who visited Barbados as cruise and traditional tourists.??
??Throughout the meeting, the panel, which included Chief Research Officer at the Ministry of Tourism, Gale Yearwood, and the Chairperson of the Tourism Advisory Council, Dr. Sherma Roberts, responded to the comments and concerns raised, offered clarifications where necessary and reaffirmed their desire to acknowledge and act on the ideas presented.
"The reason you’re here is because we want to hear your views, the reason why we have invited you to this forum is because your views are important," Dr. Roberts asserted.
??The town hall series continues on Wednesday, January 29, at the St. James Secondary School, Holetown, at 7:00 p.m.?? Comments may be made and further information on the Tourism Discussion Document and venues for future town hall meetings may be found at http://www.tourism.gov.bb/.?? The public can also send suggestions via email to email@example.com or call the Ministry at 430-7500.??