Tourism is in crisis around the world, but early in the pandemic Barbados became a global leader by taking the first step toward the necessary transformation of our industry. In April 2020 a member of the Barbados Jobs & Investment Council gave the Prime Minister’s Office a memo from a Bajan management consultant that outlined a proposal to create a one year visa for remote workers. Prime Minister Mottley’s government implemented the 12 Month Barbados Welcome Stamp just twelve weeks later. They implemented it brilliantly, beating every other country in the world.
The explosive growth of remote work among hundreds of millions of knowledge workers around the globe has irrevocably changed the tourism industry because it has moved the tourism marketplace beyond the narrow constraints of the vacation. Regional economist Marla Dukharan has strongly suggested that we focus our tourism development efforts on the Welcome Stamp because she pointed out that their local spending, and beneficial impact on the Barbados economy, is enormously greater per capita than that of a tourist.
Welcome Stamp visitors are worth so much more because vacationers have little time to spend, fitting the vacation into their annual holiday allowance … nor do they have much money to spend, often saving up for a year or more to afford a short beach getaway. For Welcome Stampers it’s very different. Not only is the portion of their budget spent on airfare a much smaller percentage of their total spend, they live here, so their entire disposable income is available to be spent in support of the Barbados economy. The MIT Enterprise Forum in Greece has calculated that a single remote work visitor who stays there for six months is worth as much to their economy as 25 vacation tourists.
The benefits of working remotely from Barbados are much greater than the transitory thrills of a beach vacation. Conrad Brits is the Chief Technology Officer of a highly successful medium sized American tech company which is the leader in its field. He and his wife Lorena have been here for a year with their three boys: Luca (11), Tristan (11), and Kian (9). Conrad explained the benefit of the Welcome Stamp to him and his family by describing his day. He had gotten up early with his wife and kids and they headed to Drill Hall Beach with their surfboards to catch some waves. However the surf conditions were not that good because of a side shore wind, so they jumped back in the car and headed over to Carlisle Bay a couple of minutes away, grabbed their snorkel gear, and spent a lovely time exploring the wrecks. Home in time for shower, breakfast, then online school and work. He said,
“my life has never been this balanced between family and work,” adding that “this has been a life-changing experience for us… one that our children will never forget.”
This is not the shallow marketing cliché of ‘lifestyle’, instead it is the environment where you can experience the deepest most profound joys of life. Conrad continued:
“It’s been brilliant. I can’t praise Barbados enough for being so innovative in their approach to changing from short-term tourism to long-term tourism. Instead of coming here for a couple of weeks, It’s given us the ability to settle in, really get to know the country.”
Barbados has worked so hard to diversify beyond short term beach tourism and the Welcome Stamp is the catalyst that finally makes that hard work viable. These Welcome Stampers engage with Bajans much more authentically than our conventional tourists ever have because they are not just here today and gone tomorrow. They want to understand our history and our culture. They want to experience our cuisine and our music. The want to really live in Barbados, not just pass through on a superficial visit.
The 12 Month Barbados Welcome Stamp Visa programme has been an unparalleled success, to the point that dozens of countries around the world have flattered us by imitating it. In the first year the Immigration Department approved 1,987 applications from all around the globe, but most are from applicants in the USA, UK, Canada, and Ireland.
The minimum household income to be qualified for the visa is $50k USD, but their average income is higher than that. A preliminary estimate of their annual spending in Barbados is about $55k USD per household, which means that they are already likely having an impact on the Barbados economy that exceeds $100 million USD on an annualised basis.
The Welcome Stamp programme is the fastest growing part of the Barbados tourism industry and it has a very bright future. Barbados will keep innovating to keep it growing to achieve a tourism renaissance and foster local economic growth.