Amid the global pandemic, nations faced numerous challenges in various areas such as the economy and public health. The impact of COVID-19 on Barbados was profound, affecting the lives of its citizens and causing significant economic setbacks. In June 2021, the World Bank approved a $100 million relief effort to address the economic downturn that the pandemic in Barbados caused.
Impact on the Economy
Due to Barbados having been a popular travel destination, it comes as no shock how the halt in tourism was one of the leading factors to the increase in poverty. Its heavy dependence on the tourism industry resulted in around 40% of the workforce becoming disadvantaged; mostly women dominated in this industry.
In 2020, there was an estimated 18% decrease in the economy, accompanied by a 4% inflation rate. This inflation impacted the prices of essentials like vegetables and fish, which increased by 4.5%. Prior to the pandemic, Barbados was already grappling with GDP issues. However, the impact of COVID-19 led Barbados to act quickly. The plan to contract the real GDP to 3% is what eventually helped Barbados bounce back from what could have been devastating to the economy. In June 2021, the World Bank gave a $100 million stimulus package to Barbados in response to the pandemic’s health-related, economic and social impacts. This package also included a vaccination strategy and a program to support employment in the tourism sector.
Equity in Education
Like many other countries, the rapid impact of COVID-19 led to school closures with some schools never opening up even after the end of the pandemic. Unfortunately, for developing countries such as Barbados, the lack of infrastructural resources did not even give students the chance to continue their education remotely. This is where the challenge of equity in education presents itself.
Estimates determined that in the Caribbean alone, school closures affected at least 1.7 billion children across 21 countries. Thankfully, through the help of private-public partnerships, it did help to support access to the internet to help continue the education for most students. Though not everyone in Barbados was easily able to access this resource, it ensured 100 schools got access.
Prices and Employment
In December 2019, the unemployment rate in Barbados stood at 10.1%. However, the pandemic caused a significant increase in unemployment, particularly in the tourism sector, which accounted for 26% of the labor force. The exact number of job losses in this sector has not been fully accounted for, indicating that the actual unemployment rate is higher than reported.
Prior to the impact of COVID-19 on Barbados, unemployment was averaging around a 10% rate but following the lockdowns this number skyrocketed to 24-26% from 2020 to 2021. Barbados took account of this percentage during the 23rd week of lockdown and tourism did not restart until 2022.
The impact of closing the tourism sector was significant, even if the economy opened back up; this is based on models predicting how the GDP would look after reopening. Experts predicted that the GDP would only move to 6% in 2021 from its previous decline of 7% in 2020 during the lockdown, showing that unemployment would remain high. They also predicted that unemployment would average 12% in 2020 and decrease to only 10% in 2021.
Despite the challenges, Barbados has shown resilience and received support from other nations. While it will take time for the country to fully recover from the impact of COVID-19, the government is dedicated to assisting its citizens during this difficult period. The tourism sector, which the pandemic halted, is a vital source of income for Barbados. To combat the pandemic’s impact on poverty, the DCI program collaborated with Barbados to introduce the “12-month Barbados Welcome Stamp” visa. Leveraging the remote work trend, this program became the world’s first remote work visa initiative, promoted through an aggressive earned media campaign.
The Barbados government announced this program in June 2020, resulting in more than 4.8 billion impressions and 2,000 applications. The official Visit Barbados website provides information on how to apply and highlights the benefits, including the option to reapply if individuals enjoyed their initial year. This program has been successful and the website offers resources for various categories, including families, individuals and even pets, showcasing why Barbados is an ideal destination.
The impact of COVID-19 on Barbados has been significant, affecting various aspects of the country’s economy and society. The heavy reliance on tourism led to a sharp increase in poverty, as two years prior to the pandemic it was at 15% and had a 2% increase afterward. However, with international support and the resilience of its people, Barbados is taking steps toward recovery. Initiatives such as the 12-month visa program and the country’s unique cultural offerings have helped revive the tourism industry and overall economy. While the road to full recovery may be long, Barbados remains committed to supporting its citizens and welcoming visitors from around the world. Through media campaigns and highlighting its distinctive experiences, Barbados aims to rebuild its tourism sector and regain economic strength in the post-COVID-19 era.
– Isabella Polo