Barbados’s portfolio minister for economic affairs and investment Marsha Caddle has shared that the island’s tourism sector has already begun the process of diversification, though there is room for more improvement, including better linkages with sectors like agriculture for stronger job-led growth.
While addressed participants at the recent virtual 51st Annual Meeting of the Board of Governors of the Caribbean Development Bank, during which the minister spoke on the Barbados Government’s responses to the COVID-19 pandemic, she referred to the tourism sector as the “visitor economy”.
She explained further that one of the ways in which the sector has become more diverse is to welcome “long-stay” tourists such as students from overseas educational institutions who wanted to visit Barbados.
“So, through medical and educational visitor projects, where we offer educational services and medical services, we found that there are ways to diversify the visitor economy such that it is more resilient and such that we are not simply depending on short-stay tourists over a high season, because that also contributes to the instability of employment in those sectors,” Caddle pointed out.
Last year, Barbados became the first Caricom country to propose extending six-month stays to one-year visas — under the Barbados Welcome Stamp — to visitors who could prove that they were working remotely. In July began accepting applications for the programme.
In terms of the social protection of citizens from the impact of the pandemic, Minister Caddle said there was no difference between social and the economic reform.
“This pandemic has shown us something very important, and that’s why I don’t separate the economic and the social. They are clearly bound up together; we have a care economy that had to step in quickly to make up for what was lost in the public and private sector and we have realised that the ways that we have structured social protection, what we call our welfare systems, are not serving us in an urgent situation like COVID,” she stated.
In addition, the minister argued that no country in the world, despite the strength or sophistication of its social protection system, could have prepared for the COVID-19 crisis. In this regard, the Barbados Government moved very quickly to increase investments in its social programmes, as well as change their modes of delivery.
She added, too, that in responding to the pandemic, investments in climate-resilient infrastructures were equally important.
However, Caddle said these investments also needed resilient financing. “We have made the case recently for Barbados-styled natural disaster clauses in new issuances of debt and we called for this not just in public debt, but also in privately issued instruments.
“And, what that means for us is, if there is a natural disaster event that is declared by some major international agency, that for two years, we do not have to meet our debt service obligations.
Caddle explained that this augured well for Barbados since, today, it is the largest issuer of natural disaster clauses in the world and, more importantly, the country, based on its gross domestic product, can barely qualify for concessional finance.