By Heidi Badenock
In the throes of a pandemic many Caribbean islands, including St. Vincent and the Grenadines have seen substantial economic fallout due to their reliance on tourism as a main source of economic income.
The pandemic resulted in the closure of many hotels in the middle of the tourist season, resulting in high levels of unemployment leaving many members in our respective communities disadvantaged.
The closure of these hotels/resorts and reduced demand for private properties has spilled over into reduced demand for local products such as seafood and fresh produce, affecting all facets of the Vincentian population directly or indirectly. With no end to this pandemic in sight it is important that our approach to tourism be revisited.
St. Vincent and the Grenadines like many of our sisters in the region has continuously failed to recognise and or even acknowledge that we are looking outside for something that can be gained right within our shores and within our region.
This something is income. With an increase in young adults attending regional institutions there has been an increased desire to travel intra-regionally for leisure.
We have a large number of nationals in the diaspora who return home frequently (with foreign dollars) and would love to patronise establishments, but the attitudes of staff towards them are a turn off. We have a young work force locally who often want to engage in leisure activities who are brushed aside for foreigners. We have these resources nearby yet we continue to expend our advertising budgets on the UK/US/Europe markets which are largely saturated, and our good manners on persons who would at best not frequent our shores more than once per year.
Our tourism sector has also strangely failed to recognise that the Caribbean market is one that has the potential to be booming, inside and outside of vincy mas.
There are numerous stories about homeowners who (even mid-pandemic) have refused to rent their properties to locals because apparently EC Dollars are worth less when deposited at a bank and local persons are not worthy of being in their properties; about locals attempting to visit resorts in St. Vincent and the Grenadines being told that they cannot use the beach (in St. Vincent and the Grenadines) and stories of horrible customer service being meted out to locals (and persons of darker hue).
Since covid-19 we have seen certain business owners begin to offer local rates and packages to encourage business. The question is therefore why couldn’t this have been done before? It is not to suggest that hotels reduce their income through special rates, but it is to say that hoteliers need to recognise that the EC Dollars which are refused and looked down upon in St. Vincent and the Grenadines are taken overseas to other Caribbean islands and other countries where they are welcomed. Why not keep that money home?
This is not to say that we should abandon existing markets but rather that we should acknowledge the value of our own people with disposable income. Vincentians like taking vacations too, they like travelling and liming and having fun. Vincentians enjoy doing the exact same thing that the tourists that we discard our own people for.
Too many of our hospitality service businesses treat our locals as ‘less than’. Too often our people when they visit these businesses are treated as second class citizens.
If we begin treating our locals and regional nationals with the same level of respect that we do others, our hospitality services industry can grow and become sustainably outside of that 6-month window. We need to disabuse ourselves of the notion that foreign dollars mean something more because when we go to the bank…a dollar, remains a dollar.