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Heads up – Embassy 13 – Nov/Dec 2008

Promoting paradise

Tourism is my life, says Hugh Arthur, the new High Commissioner for Barbados, who has spent over 30 years in the industry, coaxing travellers – from Tony Blair to Cliff Richard – to the iconic palm trees and sun-drenched shores of of his country. Tiger Woods even tied the knot on his piece of paradise.

This might be Arthur’s first real foray into diplomacy, but his experience in tourism will come in handy in the UK, the most important tourism market for Barbados, which has also seen an influx of UK citizens buying second homes on the Caribbean island.

But the High Commissioner admits there is some trouble in paradise as the Caribbean faces the double challenge of a global economic downturn, as well as climate change, which has brought ever more destructive hurricanes to the region and has environmentally conscious travellers pondering the size of their carbon footprints.

All the more reason to think strategically, says Arthur whose job it is to get the government investment and tourism agencies working in a more “creative and collaborative way” to promote a sustainable and aspirational, yet affordable tourism.

“We are very pleased that the current administration in the UK seems to see climate change as one of its priorities,” says Arthur. “One of the issues I certainly will be pursuing is how they can assist in terms of getting progress on the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change because that would be a victory for small states such as ours.”

Helping Britain understand the needs of Barbados and the wider region is one of Arthur’s most important tasks in London, he says. “We see Britain as a friend in terms of articulating the concerns of small states in big fora such as the UN and the EU and the Commonwealth Secretariat.”

At the WTO the UK has been helpful in emphasising that the interests of small states need to be protected within the context of globalisation, he says. “Global trade agreements should provide flexibility so as not to compromise the development of small states – we need more consideration, time and assistance in making the adjustments.”

Similarly, CARICOM recently signed a European Partnership Agreement with the EU in Barbados, which was at the forefront of the campaign to finalise the agreement, designed to open up markets and the services sector in both regions.

“Our region did not get everything we wanted in the Agreement and some countries felt we could have held out for more,” admits Arthur, “But there are significant benefits that we can derive from it and it is my task here in London to ensure we get the most from the EPA.”

In fact, with the European and US financial services sectors taking a hit in the recent financial crisis, the financial sector in Barbados might be able to exploit a few opportunities, he says.

Oil and gas is also a sector earmarked for expansion, he adds, now that territorial issues with Trinidad and Tobago have been resolved and high prices have made exploration viable. “But we are taking our time,” he cautions, “because oil and gas exploration are expensive undertakings.”

A top priority for the new government elected in January is to capitalise on Barbados’s diaspora, whose remittances are already an important source of foreign exchange.

“We are trying to embrace the diaspora and make it easier for them to make their contribution to the country,” says Arthur. This will include establishing instruments to facilitate investment in Barbados as well as practical programmes, such as a reward scheme to incentivise Barbadian nationals in promoting tourism.

During a recent, visit Prime Minister David Thompson officially launched the Council for Investment, Export, Foreign Exchange and Diaspora (CIEX), which will, among other things, set about creating a network of expatriate Barbadians and gathering information on their skills.

“In this way, we can identify ways in which we can tap into those resources to the benefit of the nation,” says the High Commissioner, whose mission will be to better organise the 60,000-strong Barbadian community in the UK.

As a small country in a globalised world, it’s all about clever strategy, something which should come naturally to the cricket-loving High Commissioner who is looking forward to his first visit to Lord’s. But more than that, he is looking forward to going to bat for his country.
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HE Mr Hugh Arthur

“We see Britain as a friend in terms of articulating the concerns of small states in big fora such as the UK and the EU”

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