New tourists the answer, say taxi men
Tourism officials may have reported a bumper winter season, as hotel operators speak of high occupancy rates, but the same cannot be said for most taxi operators and craft and food vendors along a section of the South Coast.
The winter tourist season runs from the end of November to April.
Between January and March of this year alone, the island recorded a total of 171, 471 long-stay visitors. This 15.1 per cent increase on the same period for last year, is the highest on record for a first quarter in 25 years, say tourism officials.
However, many of the taxi operators who ply their trade from the Rockley, Christ Church area said they did not experience the increase in business they expected would come with the rise in the numbers of visitors.
When a Barbados TODAY team arrived at Accra about 11:45 this morning a number of taxi operators called out to us thinking we were potential passengers.
Almost two dozen taxis were parked and a number of taxi operators were seen chatting among themselves, while a few seemed on the prowl for a job. Others just sat in a shaded area patiently waiting for potential passengers.
Anthony Breedy, a taxi operator for about 17 years, said he believed the fall-off in business for him was as a result of the high number of repeat visitors to the island. He suggested tourism operators here should do more to attract new tourists and a younger demographic.
“They get up and say we had the most tourists [in 25 years for the first quarter of the year]. The problem we have is too much repeat tourists. We need some new tourists. Attract new tourists between the age of 25 and 35,” argued Breedy.
“It is after 11 o’clock and I haven’t got any work for the morning. This is like a block [liming spot] on most days,” he added.
He said he found the repeat guests were more familiar with the country and were opting instead to take the bus to their destinations.
Breedy said the issue was compounded by stiff competition from tour operators and other private taxi operators who were charging less than the stipulated fees for transporting customers.
“The tourists are not going to [the attractions] either, because from the time they were here they have been to those places already. So it is mainly the hotels and beaches. That is about it,” said Breedy, pointing out that the sargassum weed on the beaches was not helping the situation either.
There are over 50 operators conducting business from the Accra taxi stand.
Pointing out that they would try what they could to get business, including promoting themselves online and by word of mouth, Breedy said he did not believe the taxi operators could do much more.
Breedy would go the Accra location as early as 6 a.m. and leave as late as 6 p.m. He operates six days a week.
Jason Prescod, another taxi operator along the South Coast tourist belt, said while he understood “things have changed all over the world”, he was not expecting the less than favourable business this past winter season.
“I can’t expect the season to be like before; but we need something a little bit more,” Prescod complained.
He has been in the business for the past eight years. And like Breedy, Prescod sometimes is out as early as six in the morning.
“It is almost midday already and I don’t get one job for the morning. This is how it is many days,” he pointed out.
“We need new visitors. That is what we need. And we need more recreation for kids,” he added.
Prescod and Breedy said between December and January was the best period for them. They said that during any other month business was less than favourable.
“August and September are the worst months,” Prescod noted.
One of their colleagues, who did not want to give his name, would only say he worked seven days a week and was satisfied how business was for him.
Another taxi operator, who would only give his name as Ricardo, said he had been in the business for the past 14 years, adding that in recent times people were opting to “catch the bus” instead of taking a cab.
Ricardo said competition was also coming from the hired vehicle companies.
He said he did “not have a choice” but to work seven days a week, explaining that since he did not work for himself he was under a little bit more “pressure” to make money.
“Sometimes I work near 24 hours and only get three jobs in that 24 hours. And that is probably three $20 jobs,” said Ricardo.
He said the past winter season “wasn’t good” for him. But he said because of the repeat visitors he “depended on” he was able to get some business.
“For the last five years, tourism in this area was rough. It could have been longer than that, but that is what I experienced,” he said.
Sherryann Baptiste, an operator of K&S kiosk, had a different story. She told Barbados TODAY the past winter season was “not bad at all”. She explained that while there was a fall-off in business it was “not that significant”.
“Other times, for sure, it would have been a little bit better,” she said.
Baptiste took over the operation from her mother about two years ago. She said while there had been “some ups and downs” during that period, she managed to keep her “head above water”.
She said the seaweed was a major contribution to the fall-off in the number of people who were visiting the area in recent times, and that could be affecting sales.
Patrica Forde is the owner and manager of De Rock beach bar. She told Barbados TODAY the last winter tourist season “was good”. She said her challenge had come towards the end of May.
“Sometimes there is nobody around,” she said.
Forde, who has been operating from Accra for the past 15 years, said she had a long list of repeat visitors who came to her bar and grill, and that that contributed to the good winter tourist season she would experience.
“People are going to come on holiday. They might go and look at the clothes one day, but you are going to come for a [drink] more than one day. You are not going to buy a T-shirt or towel every day,” she proffered.
She said a part of her strategy for dealing with the slower months was to plan ahead and prepare for it mentally.
“Sometimes it is good to still come and open because the day that you don’t come people will say, ‘I passed and you were closed’; so it is twofold. You still have to come and open on a day for a little bit and let people know you are still around . . . . Sometimes I do a little 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.,” she added, noting that her hours were usually longer when more customers were around.
And one kiosk vendor, who did not want to be identified, said business had been better for her in past years but not during the recent winter season.
“People are not spending any money. People come and look. They come and just say they are looking,” she said.
“One time I come, I done get business already; but I [have been] here for the whole morning and I don’t see anything moving. I don’t see anybody even come asking what I [am] selling,” she said, as she looked up from weaving a basket.
“We need more tourists. They had a lot of tourists, but we not seeing them up in here. The ships bringing in a lot of people, but we are not seeing them much up in here,” she said.