Q: Barbados is quite well developed as a tourism destination compared with other places in the Caribbean. Are you at capacity or is there still room to grow?
A: There is a lot of room to grow. There is a lot of room for new, greenfield hotel investment in Barbados and tourism attractions as well. We have something like 10 hotels that are expected to come on stream during the course of 2020 as we start to build out, and that will amount to about 1500 new rooms being added in the next 18 months to two years.
We endured a bit of an economic decline over the past 10 years, and there is a conscious effort by the tourism industry – which is really what we do best – to lead us out of the decline.
We do it in a managed way, however. We are making sure we do what is needed to enhance capacity but, at the same time, we are sensitive to critical issues that are environmental in nature. We are very conscious of the issue of climate change and the importance of sustainability, so as we go forward we are trying to do it in a measured and systematic way.
First, we’ve reviewed and revised our country planning legislation. For a long time we constrained our own growth by not allowing hotels and similar types of construction activity to go beyond five or six storeys in Barbados. We are now allowing for [taller buildings]; this allows a property to see a return on investment faster and at the same time contribute more to growth without necessarily taking up larger land space.
With regard to energy, we made a policy decision that we will be entirely fossil fuel free by the year 2030 and, to that extent, we’ve started to review all of the things that are necessary to make sure that the legislative infrastructure is in place to support that. Photovoltaics, for example, is something that we are looking at. Our airport will be, very shortly, almost 100% independent of fossil fuel energy as we are developing a photovoltaic [solar] farm at the airport.
The airport itself is going to be expanded for capacity purposes – but we are looking at the expansion in a systematic, managed way and building into it those considerations. This will allow us to be environmentally conscious and to protect the fundamentals of the fragile ecosystem that is Barbados. We also banned plastic bags and renewable plastics in April 2019 [to avoid polluting the sea in this way].
Q: Is the industry supportive of these initiatives?
A: I very much think so. People realise that sustainability is really what the future is all about, so it hasn’t been a fight. People are being asked to do things a different way and in that there are always adjustments and some difficulties, but I think we are past all of that. There is no resistance or public outcry about it because for the most part it is just a matter of common sense.
Our prime minster, Mia Mottley, has led the charge on this issue not only at home but abroad, wherever possible. It is a conscious policy agenda. She gave an address at the UN on climate change and its impact on small islands [that got a lot of attention]. We are sending the signal to the world to say that around the corner from us in Brazil they are busy burning the rain forest and – in our small way as a small country – we are trying to augment some leadership towards environmental protection.