Tourism is a Dead Horse

Prime Minister Mia Mottley’s recent announcement of the new 12-Month Barbados Welcome Stamp has galvanized the attention of the global media and garnered us millions of dollars’ worth of free publicity.

This does not come a moment too soon because the Barbados tourism industry faces annihilation from the economic and social effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. Our old tourism industry will not recover for several years because North America and Europe are entering a deep economic depression, many of the airlines which used to bring visitors are going bankrupt, airline tickets are more expensive because of reduced passenger volume, and we have to quarantine arriving visitors to avoid importing the virus again.

However, Barbados is the first tourism dependent economy in the world to begin to innovate a transition from tourism around the competitive strengths of our excellent climatic and social environment.

Mottley’s brilliant new initiative will enable Barbados to build a globally competitive industry, worth billions of dollars in foreign exchange annually, around the opportunity to host a Barbados resident independent workforce who are employed in Europe and North America. We have already built a valuable brand to attract them and we already have attractive infrastructure to accommodate them.

But make no mistake, this is NOT simply long stay tourism: this is a new product, in a new industry, part of a new marketplace, for new clients, with new requirements. The clients we seek are not traditional digital nomads: that type of tourist evolved over the past few decades in places with a very low cost of living like Laos and Cambodia, where they are looking to live a cheaply as possible while pursuing freelance work.

The 12-Month Barbados Welcome Stamp exploits an emerging opportunity exposed by one of the most profound social changes caused by the COVID-19 pandemic: many tens of millions more people, particularly technology professionals in Europe and North America, now work from home. The World Economic Forum estimates that by 2019 the number of technology professionals in the USA who could work from home had already grown to 16%; the pandemic has increased this to well over 90%, the majority of whom will likely never return to their cubicles. So why should these recently untethered employees continue to suffer the bleak climate of Toronto or New York or London when they can relocate to Barbados and continue to work from home?… just that now their home is a much nicer place to live.

The people who will come here to work from home here at their jobs in other countries have very different requirements than the tourists who used to visit for a week’s vacation. We will be recruiting people with stable jobs and upper middle class incomes; they have more in common with the applicants for a Special Entry Permit that Barbados currently provides to High Net Worth Individuals.

Their first requirement is for clearly communicated reliable information. Barbados needs a new dedicated information and application portal to guide people through every aspect of moving to Barbados as part of this program. It must include:
+ Barbados cultural, geographic, and technological information;
+ Immigration information;
+ COVID-19 status information;
+ Health care information;
+ Taxation information;
+ Legal information;
+ Workspace information;
+ Testimonials;
+ Housing and accommodation information;
+ Mail forwarding information; and
+ Cost of living information.
Barbados needs to build this portal quickly so that it is operational no later than September 1st 2020, or we will have wasted all of the free publicity that the recent media attention has gained.

Their second requirement is for Barbados to completely eliminate bureaucratic red tape. The proposed fee of US$2,000 per individual or US$3,000 per family will be the kiss of death for this initiative. The point of the 12-Month Barbados Welcome Stamp is to inject foreign exchange into the Barbados economy through the spending of these residents on accommodation, food, restaurants and other living expenses; not to impose bureaucratic fees that stifle and distort the market. These proposed fees are outrageous; they will simply strangle the goose before she has laid a single golden egg. My market research over the past three months shows clearly that these fees will drive our clients toward the Bahamas, Bermuda and Jamaica, where people are already working on competitive digital nomad initiatives.

Their third requirement is for an agile response which adapts to their evolving needs as clients. They may well come here for a year and then decide to stay longer; we must make Barbados Welcome Stamp renewal a painless online process that takes no longer than five minutes. They may want to incorporate a Barbados based business to take advantage of our competitive local tax rates; we must have all the answers about the risks and rewards about such a strategy and be prepared to make such incorporations a fast fully online process.

To meet these requirements Barbados must establish a single point of interaction to take care of all of the needs of people coming here to take advantage of the 12-Month Barbados Welcome Stamp; we must not be sending them of a frustrating bureaucratic merry-go-round between Immigration, Foreign Affairs, BTMI, Finance and Customs. The government agency most suited to growing this new export sector of our economy is Invest Barbados, because their experience makes them most accustomed to working in close conjunction with the private sector actors like tax consultants and lawyers that will be pivotal to this growth.

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