A veteran hotelier says COVID-19 could be the worst crisis to have ever hit the tourism sector in Barbados and it will be rough going for the next six to eight months.
Gordon Seale, the owner of Sugar Bay Barbados Resort was speaking at a press conference on Saturday to address issues within the tourism sector, including the industrial relations climate.
Prime Minister Mia Mottley hosted the more than hour-long session which included representatives from the Barbados Workers’ Union, the Barbados Hotel and Tourism Association, the Ministry of Tourism and the National Insurance Scheme (NIS) at the Lloyd Erskine Sandiford Centre.
Seale said he was optimistic the industry could rebound on the hopes of vaccines in the works, but was expecting more shocks in the interim.
“I don’t think we are seeing the end of the spikes in this COVID pandemic. I am certainly under the impression that what they have done in England and other parts of the UK is intended to ease the pressure on the hospitals rather than to actually deal a knockout blow to COVID, and if that’s the case, then basically we may see additional lockdowns in the future,” he said.
As a result, he sees the tourism industry as being very fluid, so he was pleased they could tweak the stimulus package, known as the Barbados Employment and Sustainable Transformation (BEST) Plan. About 40 properties have signed on.
He praised the Barbados 12-Month Welcome Stamp, noting at the time when Mottley was making the rounds on the various international networks to promote the live and work programme, it put Barbados “top of mind” for potential travellers who had never heard of the island; a plus in addition to those who took up the offer.
Seale said there was “a lot of pent up demand for travel”.
“I think between now and mid next year is going to be a hard call, but hopefully, we will see some pickup. I do not agree with anyone that thinks that we can replace tourism in Barbados at any time in the foreseeable future, and that’s because our biggest assets are the sun, the sea, the beaches and the people of Barbados.
One of the issues on the table was the saga between The Club Resort and Spa, which, after initially reaching agreement with former workers to pay severance, subsequently indicated payment would be made by the NIS. Workers took to the streets to protest in front of the St James property.
“We are having the worst year in tourism, probably ever on record, so we are all trying our best to survive it. That does not give any excuse for the kind of behaviour that we are referring to with The Club and anyone that is not taking their responsibilities where they are actually in a position to [do so] and I just hope that we don’t see repeats of that with anybody else,” Seale said.