Current and future investors in Barbadian tourism have again been warned that Government won’t give in to pressure to offer sweeping concessions as a review of the Government’s package to attract investment appears imminent.
In a speech to the Barbados Hotel and Tourism Association (BHTA) at the Lloyd Erskine Sandiford Centre on Wednesday, Minister of Tourism Kerrie Symmonds said to expect a complete overhaul of how concessions were currently being given.
He told the BHTA’s annual general meeting: “There is still the question of how we deal with investment and concessions in the tourism sector. We have seen the disequilibrium that can be created when unfair and uneven treatment is meted out, and this sector, six or seven years later, is still reeling from the effects of that type of treatment.
“I don’t want to cry over spilt milk but I must tell you that the time has come that we are going to have now to do a fundamental overhaul and review of tourism-related concessions.
“I am not going to go into the specifics of what some of the top-of-mind suggestions are, but suffice it to say, it seems to make a lot of sense that we deal with this issue now once and for all.”
His comments came just two months after Prime Minister Mia Mottley revealed that Government was in the process of establishing a special committee to review the types of concessions being given to the hotel sector.
He said there was no doubt that Government was willing to sit with industry officials and “make things happen” and re-stimulate investor confidence in Barbados, but they should expect to pay their fair share since granting sweeping concessions could have the country “caught up in a race to the bottom”.
“The message I want to leave with you is that this administration is simply asking for a sense of proportionality,” Symmonds said in his first address to the association as Tourism Minister.
Declaring that the industry was in a transformative phase, he said discussions on the proposed changes have already started and more information should be forthcoming “within the next few months”.
Symmonds said: “It is clear that there is going to have to be a serious re-visitation of the way in which we deal with concessions.”
He made the comments following a complaint by the BHTA’s chairman, Stephen Austin, that hotel officials were still experiencing a number of challenges in accessing concessions under the Tourism Development Act (TDA), and the Tourism Development Amended Act (TDAA).
In his report, Austin said there was still a slow pace of Customs clearance for items and that the way the TDA was being administered was cumbersome.
He argued that the obstacles that hoteliers faced when importing items under the TDA were “very frustrating and can be costly due to the amount of human resources dedicated to having these items cleared”.
As tourism is a major economic driver for the local economy, Austin contended the concessions granted were “meant to encourage and assist the sector in renewing its product and remaining competitive”.
He recommended that there be an easier application process for registrants with clear guidelines within a set period of time and for the establishment of an exemption list.
Austin said it was also time for the same concessions to be offered to individual restaurants that qualify as BHTA members.
He said: “We cannot continue to meet to discuss and suggest alternatives on how the TDA and the TDAA can be improved with agreement by all agencies in Government and then no change is implemented to improve the situation.”