At the COP26 conference on November 1, the prime minister of Barbados, Mia Mottley, delivered a powerful speech calling global warming a “death sentence” for countries like hers and imploring the richer nations who were responsible for the majority of fossil fuel emissions to “try harder” to solve the problem.
At the UN’s World Tourism Council summit a day later, Barbados’s minister of tourism and international transport, Lisa Cummins, told fDi that sustainability requires differentiated policies for small developing island states vulnerable to climate change.
Q: As a tourism-dependent economy, what kind of juncture is Barbados at currently in the travel sector?
A: I think if you look at the traditional model for islands, it has been built on sun, sea and sand. Visitors can’t wait to get to the beach, eat some grilled fish, and go swimming and sailing. All of those things are traditional notions of the tourism sector, but they are all affected by climate change because of the impact of sea level rise on islands.
Last September, we introduced one of our flagship programmes — the Barbados Employment and Sustainable Transformation programme — where we pay companies not to furlough their workers, but to re-engage them and invest in the transformation of our tourism sector through digitisation, renewables, water saving and new green practices.
Q: What role does foreign direct investment (FDI) play in this?
A: FDI plays a huge role. There has to be a balance between domestic capitalisation and domestic investments, but we can’t do it all domestically and so we’re really dependant on international investment.
We’re matching the Welcome Stamp, the 12-month visa that allows remote workers to live on the island, with start-ups. Specifically, we are looking at how start-ups can set up domicile in Barbados and perhaps go from being a visitor to being a local investor with a transformational start-up enterprise that focuses on sustainable tourism.
Q: In the wake of the Covid-19 fallout, there has been a push on the part of the Barbados government to diversify. Do you think tourism will become less important for the country?
A: Tourism collapsed the entire economy last year. There is no question about us needing to diversify into a new knowledge-based economy. It is not an either/or, but an ‘in addition to’, because we will always be a beautiful island with the most beautiful beaches in the world, and we will always be developing new products and services. But, alongside this, we have a highly educated population that is attracting new minds as we invest in building a globally positioned economy driven by life sciences and technology.
Q: Barbados recently unveiled new routes for Aer Lingus and KLM. So, are we back to a business-as-usual form of tourism? Is this sustainable?
A: Barbados is an island. One of the key things here is connectivity and transportation. You cannot get to us without air or sea transportation.
The key thing here is travelling sustainably. Net-zero initiatives and reducing your carbon footprint are all going to be critical for the aviation industry. The cruise industry has done it already in terms of cleaner fuels. These will be inherent in making sure that sustainable ecotourism is practical and feasible for islands that need that connectivity.
This article was first published in the December 2021/January 2022 edition of fDi Intelligence magazine. Read the online edition here.