Remote Work Barbados is made possible by Prime Minister Mia Mottley's political and economic master-stroke. Her 12-Month Barbados Welcome Stamp innovation has the potential to spur the evolution of the Barbados tourism industry into long term sustainability in the 21st century. This is the story of the memo I wrote to the Government of Barbados economic development team that proposed the idea.
It was April 2020, in the middle of the Barbados national lockdown from the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, and I was struggling with that now all too familiar combination of anxiety and boredom. So I did what one does in that frame of mind… I argued with strangers on the internet.
Blog traffic at wunnuh.org went through the roof when I proposed the idea.
I was arguing in the comments section of an article written by a respected Caribbean tourism expert with decades of experience and an impeccable professional track record. I’m a management consultant with no tourism industry experience at all. The hotels had emptied out; flights had come to a standstill; cruise ships wandered around the Caribbean sea hoping to find somewhere that would allow them to dock while they had pandemic cases aboard.
He elaborated a multi-year plan to support the tourism industry that included things like “hosting travel agent evening receptions...” and the creation of a Barbados “platinum incentive holiday package...” while I insisted that short stay holiday tourism was a dead horse, and that neither sweeter carrots nor bigger sticks would bring it back to life. (https://barbadosunderground.net/2020/04/27/recovery-project-to-support-tourism-industry/) The discussion was what diplomats describe as ‘frank,’ and someone quickly challenged me to draw up an alternative.
I went back to basics. I drew up an inventory of the natural competitive advantages that Barbados has. For the sugar industry the competitive advantages were our climate and the Holy Roman Inquisition which drove Jewish refugees with sugar cane technology to settle here. For our tourism industry our competitive advantages were our delightful climate and our cultural history which made us hospitable and accustomed us to serving other people. There was clearly a common element; our primary competitive advantage since 1627 has always been our climate.
Then I figured out how to connect this competitive advantage to an explosive growth in market demand. One of the profound social changes that the pandemic has catalyzed is the normalization of working from home for many technical and managerial professionals in Europe and North America. So why should these recently untethered employees continue to suffer the climate of Montreal or Chicago or Manchester when they can relocate to Barbados and continue to work from home?… just that their home is now a much nicer place to live.
By now I had transmuted my anxiety and boredom into excitement and optimism. I wrote about the idea on my personal blog and then I went to bed. (http://wunnuh.org/barbados-beyond-tourism/) Hardly anybody reads my blog. I write it as an aid to my own thinking and to communicate ideas to family and friends rather than for widespread public consumption. It was a bit of a shock to wake up to dozens of emails from people around the world who wanted to talk to me about the idea of working remotely from Barbados. Over 5,000 people read my blog post within a day of its publication. One of the people who reached out to me is personally connected to the highest levels of the Barbados Government. He asked me to write a two page memo that left out the parts where I said unkind things about government policy, and he would make sure that it was read by the people who develop economic policy for Barbados. I not only did as he asked, but I also distributed the memo to another dozen people with influence in Barbadian tourism and economic policy decisions through my Linkedin connections and contacts.
My excitement waned a bit over the next few weeks, although I did write a newspaper article about the idea so that it could be exposed to a wider range of constructive criticism. I also held discussions with Invest Barbados, the Government’s economic development agency, but they were not in a position to immediately invest in the idea. I vaguely expected that the concept would wind its way slowly through the bureaucracy to climb the usual hurdles: first as a Green Paper to publish economic analysis, then as a White Paper to indicate a new policy direction, then as regulatory and legislative changes to set up a new immigration framework. With luck it might get done in two years, but it would be just as likely for nothing to ever happen at all.
When Prime Minister Mottley made the announcement of the 12-Month Barbados Welcome Stamp only two months later my surprise was exceeded only by my delight. I have never before seen a government react in such an entrepreneurial way to bring a new product to market. I’ve been told that PM Mottley short circuited many customary procedures in order to act quickly. She didn’t make the announcement as part of an economic or tourism policy speech, but as part of off the cuff remarks at a party to celebrate the opening of a local restaurant. I’m informed that none of the agencies charged with implementing the policy had any advance knowledge of the policy change. She appears to have deprived the bureaucracy of any chance to use government procedure to kill the idea.
The explosive global positive reaction to the Barbados Welcome Stamp surprised everyone but me; it was just a mirror of what had happened on my blog but, several orders of magnitude bigger propelled by the stature of the Prime Minister. The Department of Immigration has risen to the challenge and responded quickly to the demand for these new visas, setting up a completely electronic application and approval process for the first time in their existence. In the first month of operation they processed over a thousand applications and passed 94% of them as eligible for the Barbados Welcome Stamp. Barbados Tourism Marketing, Inc. is responsible for marketing the Barbados Welcome Stamp and they have elegantly integrated the product into their visitbarbados.org website, but they cannot be expected to provide all of the types of services that this new category of visitor will need.
These visitors need a concierge service to guide them through the quirks and peculiarities of moving to Barbados, living here long term, and being productive both in their work and their lives while they are here. Remote Work Barbados is the concierge service for people who can work at their jobs remotely, and who wish to live in our sunny, friendly, low COVID environment. We guide them through every step of the process: housing, vehicles, child care, schools, health insurance... whatever they need.
Welcome to Barbados.