Barbados’ health and wellness tourism should be private-sector led, with Government providing the legal and regulatory framework for expansion and private investment.
This, according to Parliamentary Secretary in the Ministry of Health, Senator Irene Sandiford-Garner, is among several recommendations, made last year to Cabinet, by an inter-sectoral Task Force that examined the development of that segment of tourism on the island.
Senator Sandiford-Garner was today addressing the start of a stakeholders’ conference at the Lloyd Erskine Sandiford Centre on Health and Wellness Tourism, where she noted that worldwide trends showed opportunities for trade in health services within the Caribbean.
“These include an ageing population with increasing demands for cosmetic surgery, spas and retirement communities. There is also growing affluence amongst the younger population, particularly in the US [United States] who rate vacations that offer spa facilities, fitness and addiction treatment as highly desirable,” she explained.
Acknowledging that innovation in health was essential given the current economic situation, the Parliamentary Secretary said: “Rising costs in health and other sectors demand that new ways are developed to sustain a stable economy. Economic downturns and recession have caused many Governments to take a second look at how essential sectors are managed.”
And, she pointed out that the island’s established tourism infrastructure, with its capacity to support the movement of customers and provide world class hotel services, was the basic platform on which a health and wellness tourism market could be built.
She explained: “Our markets offer attractive environments for the delivery of a health tourism product. Our proximity to the North American and European markets, climate and ambient environment, lower labour costs, reliable communications and transport infrastructure, first class hotel and tourism services, an educated population, and well-trained practitioners in an established health and medical service in both public and private sectors, make Barbados a prime destination for visitors seeking health services.”
While stressing that the Health Ministry had taken the initiative to lead the development of the health and wellness tourism industry, Senator Sandiford-Garner stated that a wellness council had already been established, “to act as the regulating body for wellness professionals such as Reiki experts, reflexologists and massage therapists.”
And, she mentioned the other recommendations of the Task Force in its July 2009 submission to Cabinet, namely that Government should seek technical assistance to undertake a study and development plan; draft a Health and Wellness Tourism Development Incentives Act; establish a wellness council; develop new legislation to address this aspect of tourism; and establish coordinating bodies to manage the six sectors outlined in the Health Tourism Continuum for Development in Barbados.
“The continuum establishes the six pillars on which our market [Health and Wellness Tourism] will be built… wellness promotion, complementary and alternative medicine, healthy food alternatives, assisted living, universal access to tourism products and services and conventional medicine,” Mrs. Sandiford-Garner maintained.