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Each of the Caribbean hotel investment conferences held in April and May this year included sessions to encourage closer cooperation between the public and private sector but, immediately prior to the Caribbean Tourism Summit in mid-June, the governments of Jamaica and of Antigua and Barbuda announced significant new airport arrival taxes, with a new hotel occupancy tax also added in Jamaica. The Caribbean hotel industry's greatest fear now is that other governments will follow.
These extra charges target the region's highest spending visitors - the stay-over guests. While everyone understands the difficulties that island governments currently face in trying to balance their own budgets in times of world economic uncertainty and with increasingly youthful populations, it is a fact that much of the region's hotel industry is in deep financial crisis and has been for some considerable time. The region's largest employer and biggest direct and indirect taxpayer cannot be "the cow you take to market and milk it twice".
Today, most lower and middle market Caribbean hotels, which have significant bank loans, are in default to some degree or other. Energy and water costs on many islands are as high as US$40 per day per occupied room - with little actual utility cost differential per day per room between budget hotels charging US$80 a night and luxury resorts charging US$800 a night.
Reservation systems, like Expedia, and tour operators continue to negotiate aggressively low hotel room rates, such that Smith Travel Research projects that average room rates in the Caribbean will not recover back to 2007 dollar levels until 2014.
My own research suggests that lower end hotels will not even achieve that level of rate recovery. More tour operators are pressuring hotels for all-inclusive rates, where meals become part of the tour operator's "commissionable" package, but Caribbean hotel restaurants are already incurring operating losses in the face of escalating world food prices. Inevitably, hotel refurbishment and marketing budgets continue to be cut.
Prior to this year's two hotel investment conferences, I researched opinions from the hotel sector, relative to its perceived needs from Caribbean governments, and the following points summarize the concerns and suggested requests.
Review taxation structures for new and existing hotels, "in their role as the region's biggest export industry and foreign currency generator". Many hotels currently require major re-investment and are struggling with bank debt and increased operating costs.
Without new thinking, continuing low levels of inward investment in the sector and a downward spiral of standards are resulting in a consequent loss of global competitiveness for the overall Caribbean hotel product. At least a certain percentage of hotel taxation should go directly towards generic Caribbean global marketing in order to create world class campaigns of adequate scale.
If taxes are reduced on the hotel sector - the current principal direct/indirect "tax cow" - governments should seek to derive compensating levels of tax revenue from the following alternative targets: much higher cruise ship port fees; effective taxation of private condo/villa rental income; a wider property tax base; corporation tax increases paid by a wider range of businesses; abolish duty-free concessions for car rental companies. Governments should also take steps to re-invigorate and grow the region's agriculture and fishery industries as major components in sustainable economic activity - for export and for direct supply to the hotel/restaurant sector and to other local consumers.
Governments should simplify and improve duty-free import concessions for refurbishment of existing hotels and for development of new hotels - but also expand them to include incentives for furnished condos and villas, providing that those units are in a hotel managed formal rental program that generates taxable income on island.
This latter action will speed up the recovery of the leisure real estate market, provide construction work, ultimately generate additional tax revenue and create new fresh resort inventory with extra earning potential for the region's hotel companies. In general, current fiscal incentives are significantly better in many Central American tourism destinations than in most Caribbean countries.
In the light of rising world food prices, there is a need to eliminate import duties for hotels on all food items - not available from local sources -- and governments should actively encourage the growth potential for local food supply.
Reduce utility costs through part/full privatization of existing electricity companies in order to finance investment in better infrastructure: the proposed gas pipeline from Trinidad or on-island LNG trans-shipment facilities; replacement of old diesel generators with efficient gas turbines, hydro, wind and tidal generators.
Similar privatization of water companies should be undertaken for greater efficiency through re-investment in updated and extended infrastructure. Given likely increases in long-term energy and water demand, this is a safe investment for the region's social security funds, insurance companies, unit trusts, credit unions and private conglomerates - many of them still too risk averse to invest directly in the Caribbean hotel industry.
Re-invigorate human resources within the hotel sector and improve the industry's profile as a career choice. Governments and the hotel sector should cooperate in developing and resourcing better, larger management and operative level training facilities throughout the region. Speed up and expand CSME to effectively allow CARICOM citizen managers and specialists to work anywhere within the region. In the meantime, expeditiously grant medium-term work permits for other skilled personnel from outside the region - where their expertise helps to drive world class standards and disseminates their specialist knowledge.
All stay-over visitors to the Caribbean (except yachtsmen) arrive by air. Greatly increased UK airline and regional airport taxes continue to have a significant negative impact on air travel to, and within, the region. The UK's APD tax was highly discriminatory and costly for the Caribbean but lobbying by the public and private sector has been completely ineffective to date and must be more vigorously pursued with the UK government.
The Caribbean Diaspora in Britain can be a powerful lobby at the next UK general election, if the APD issue is successfully communicated to them. The region now faces additional potential negative effects from the proposed European Union's airline "carbon tax" and must avoid further increases in regional airport taxes.
Almost all Caribbean-based airlines are currently loss making but their ticket prices (including taxes) are some of the highest in the world per seat/mile. The private and public sector across the region should work together to help create, finance and under-write a viable pan-Caribbean international and regional carrier, which will genuinely "partner" with the rest of the Caribbean tourism industry. Meanwhile, the cruise sector, which operates in the region virtually tax free and increases its "Caribbean hotel market share" year on year, must also be forced to make its fair share contribution to government tax revenues in the region.
I do not pretend that this commentary from the Caribbean's hotel sector represents a panacea, but the region's most vital industry is on a slippery slope, with a significant part of it in danger of being decimated by strengthening world-wide competition.
It seems very likely that middle market hotels on the islands with a lower cost base, like the Dominican Republic and Cuba, will survive. Highly likely too that the region's luxury resorts will survive, but what are the survival chances for some of the rest of the Caribbean's hotels, particularly older properties with significant debt finance? Some of the dominoes are already falling.
Governments and the hotel sector should communicate quickly and effectively to act together with the greatest sense of urgency. Arguably, the French market has already left for the Indian Ocean and most of the Germans for South East Asia. And some people still think, "These islands market themselves!"
o Robert MacLellan is CEO of MacLellan & Associates, the largest hospitality, tourism and leisure consultancy based in the Caribbean. He has 18 years experience in the hospitality industry in the Caribbean and was a cruise ship hotel officer and vice president, hotel services, of a cruise line earlier in his career. Printed with the permission of caribbeannewsnow.com.
Guardian Business: Can you briefly describe your experience in the tourism sector and what your role is today?
Sonia: I had the privilege of working for the Atlantis resort on Paradise Island from 2002-2005. It was a breakthrough opportunity for me after serving seven years at the Ministry of Works as a design engineer and project manager. In the role at Atlantis I drew on my project management skills, as I had responsibility for executing an annual multi-million dollar capital budget for all the senior vice presidents of the company who were at the time my internal customers. Unlike in the public sector I was given a lot of autonomy to run the projects department. I, of course, closely coordinated with the heads of the facilities division but felt empowered, and I was expected to succeed.
I currently own and operate a full service mechanical and electrical engineering consultancy and, as it turns out, my major project is the Baha Mar Development resort being undertaken on Cable Beach. Graphite Engineering Ltd. has been selected as the Mechanical and Electrical Engineers of Record for this project.
GB: Why did you choose to work in tourism as a career?
Sonia: I did not choose tourism specifically as a career, but as a consequence of what was available in the economy. An opportunity in tourism presented itself and I was pleased to embrace it. Bahamian engineers continue to be under represented in major tourism projects at the level of design and onwards. This will only change if we continue to build capacity and, when given an opportunity, we provide stellar service.
GB: What has been your most memorable moment?
Sonia: My team was given the opportunity to oversee the renovation of the Crown Ballroom. By dollar value it was the largest project given to our department. It was not a technically challenging assignment but we had a very short time frame to deliver the project, and we were able to get it done.
GB: Has the industry changed since you started your career? How?
Sonia: As it specifically refers to the engineering services in hotels, there have been a myriad of changes because the mechanical and electrical systems that support these buildings, keeping them lit and cool, continue to be more sophisticated.
GB: What should The Bahamas focus on to stay competitive?
Sonia: We are currently sitting on an opportunity to aggressively push sustainable tourism and make this a given for any property in The Bahamas. We should require that our hotels in the first instance be high performance buildings, with excellent carbon footprints. We should be reusing, recycling and cutting waste. If we can do this without hurting our cost competitiveness we would set ourselves apart from the pack and demonstrate that we really care about our country.
GB: What advice would you give to a young person who is considering a career in tourism?
Sonia: Do your homework, literally. There a lot of opportunities very high up in the food chain of these resorts that Bahamians can fill. We must accept the fact that a lot of the developers are multi-national companies and it means we may be competing with international persons for jobs at home. This means we need to get international exposure and experience, and be prepared to function at the top of our game.
Bahamian companies and the government have been urged not to take a "passive approach" to efforts to tap into private Chinese wealth, with one top local realtor suggesting that even as the appetite and capacity to invest abroad grows within the Asian giant, the Chinese know little about this country.
Fresh from helping to coordinate Mario Carey Realty's (MCR) participation in a luxury property showcase for high-net-worth Chinese, Danny Lowe, a Beijing-based consultant for MCR, noted that many countries are far ahead of The Bahamas in channelling Chinese investments abroad.
Speaking with Guardian Business after returning from the Shanghai Luxury Property Show, where 5,000 high-net-worth individuals (HNWIs) who were "hand-picked" to attend the event were invited to view a presentation he conducted on The Bahamas, Mario Carey said his experience in the country taught him that The Bahamas is "not well known there".
"They want to know where The Bahamas is, so we use reference points like New York City, Toronto, places they would know, because they have no idea," said the realtor, who has concluded over 100 sales transactions in Ocean Club Estates on Paradise Island.
His comments come as recent surveys suggest that Bahamian sectors such as real estate, tourism and financial services stand to benefit from becoming better known in China.
In 2013, a comprehensive survey revealed that the number of HNWIs in China has more than doubled in the past four years to 700,000.
One in three wealthy Chinese have investments abroad, and of those, 60 percent would like to increase their overseas holdings, according to the survey from China Merchants Bank and Bain & Company released in mid-2013.
That's roughly double the number of HNWIs who reported making similar investments in 2011.
Meanwhile, in 2013, around 60 percent of HNWIs reported some interest in moving abroad.
Some commentators have noted that this interest is increasing as China seeks to shift its economic model away from that which made many of its super wealthy rich, to one that seeks to even out some of its inequality. This could lead to higher taxes for the wealthy, along with other changes that could threaten their wealth.
Other surveys have revealed significant "anxiety" among Chinese entrepreneurs about the security of their investments, based on concerns about the rule of law and lack of regulated business norms.
In the China Merchants Bank and Bain & Company report, the most prominent issues concerning Chinese who are considering moving or investing abroad are environmental issues like air pollution and the low quality of drinking water and food safety.
Many people are also worried about the education of their children as well as their own retirement plans.
Lowe, who speaks fluent Mandarin and specializes in Chinese and Asian consumer behavior, said that there is a lot of competition for private Chinese investment.
While the relationship between the Export-Import Bank of China, the China State Construction and Engineering Corporation and Baha Mar has played a role in informing mainland Chinese residents about The Bahamas, there is more that could be done by both the public and private sectors to raise this country's profile in the Asian giant, said Lowe.
"The Bahamas is thinking that once Baha Mar comes they will come; that's a passive approach, why not move ahead instead of waiting for Baha Mar?
"There are a lot of competitors for the Chinese dollar. We definitely need to get a foot out there in getting ourselves known so that the Chinese know there is a paradise on this side of the world," said Lowe.
"At the trade show there were so many other countries there promoting themselves and they are way ahead of the curve in attracting the Chinese consumer."
Carey agreed, adding that a promotional campaign in China would be money well spent for this country.
"I think The Bahamas, the government, the ministries of tourism and finance, need to think about increasing the presence of this country there through a marketing campaign in that market. If there is anywhere we could be spending the money, I think we would benefit from it there," said Carey.
The promotion does not necessarily have to sell something new to Chinese, but elaborate on and illuminate what The Bahamas already has to offer, said the realtor.
"What we already have works. We just need to let them know what differentiates us. We are English-speaking, the dollar is on par with the U.S. dollar, and you can become a permanent resident if you invest over a certain amount."
"Bahamians have this misconception that the Chinese will come and buy up everything but the government has policies in place for that."
On the plus side, the mutual visa exemption agreement between The Bahamas and China, signed last month, is a major step forward for encouraging tourism, and potentially investment, said Lowe.
"The Chinese usually find it very attractive that they can enter into another country without a visa; it shows on a political level that the country's ties are stable and furthermore they want to do these things on the fly.
"Although the Bahamian embassy in Beijing, China does facilitate visas it's much more convenient that they wouldn't need to be processed and can come directly," said Lowe.
Carey said he has received some very positive responses from potential investors following MCR's presentation and meetings in China.
"Based on what I've done, I'm already getting some tremendous feedback from it. I think it will pay off.
"I've been nurturing this for a while. We have our website in Mandarin, we have Danny in China as our Chinese consultant; it's a determined strategy and it's starting to pay off, so the next step now is to create business opportunities, form partnerships."
Down the line, the realtor anticipates one day having an office in the Asia-Pacific region.
"It's safe to say we could have an office in the Asia-Pacific region; that's one of the goals we have. Why wouldn't MCR take advantage of having Bahamians (students) there? The culture and etiquette are very important when dealing with clients on a global level, so its important that they can see Bahamian people taking time out to reach out to them," he added.
Industry position: Technical Support Officer, Underwriting, Bahamas First General Insurance
What attracted you to the sector?
Initially I desired to be a teacher. During my high school years, however, I developed a love for economics. After summer jobs at Lloyd's and Commonwealth Bank, I became interested in banking, particularly trust administration.
How long have you been involved in financial services? What keeps you motivated?
I have been involved in financial services for the last 10 years
and have been employed at Bahamas First General Insurance for seven-and-a-half years.
I am motivated by the person that I know that I am and the potential that lies within me, along with my desire to be the best and to truly be a person of excellence. I must be my best not because someone is watching but because of me. I do not judge myself based on others' actions. I am also motivated by the support I receive from those around me. Knowing that persons are pushing you to succeed is great motivation.
Why do you think you have been successful?
I have been successful predominantly because of the favor of God.
As I reminiscence, I realize that throughout my life He has allowed me to "stand out" with various key persons who have presented me with opportunities and caused me to gain the necessary exposure.
My "success" is also due to the hard work of my parents, Bradley Pratt and Theresa Hopkins. They ensured that I was educated and that I had the tools needed to succeed. I watched them push to success in spite of obstacles. Beyond that, they loved me and pushed me to success. Just about every person that I have come into contact with has believed in me, sometimes beyond what I believed in myself. This provided a great impetus and I was driven to discover what they saw in me; in other words, to see if I could actually do and achieve what they thought I could.
Finally, I would not downplay my hard work, discipline and determination.
Did mentoring play a part in your success?
It sure did. In the personal arena, I was mentored by the late Ruthmae Bonnie Miller and I continue to be mentored by Kelson Miller. Careerwise, Oscar Sawyer "took me under his wings" when I first arrived at Bahamas First and continued to ensure that I had a firm foundation and understanding of policies throughout his time at the company.
Bonnie Nguyen may not know that I consider her a mentor but she is to me. She has helped me to grow in confidence and challenges me to perform many tasks that I would not "take on" without her guidance.
What qualifications do you feel are the most useful in helping you perform in the sector?
All of my post secondary education was geared toward financial services. I knew that I wanted to be a part of the industry. The CII courses which I became involved in after my official entry to the sector were a tremendous source of knowledge and greatly assisted my understanding, paticularly of the insurance sector.
What has been the biggest challenge in your career? How did you overcome it?
This is somewhat of a hard question for me.
My biggest challenge in my career to this point, I would say, has been wanting to be promoted too quickly. Because I know who I am and what I can do, I sometimes become frustrated with where I am. I have learned to remember that some things take time and that continued diligence, efficiency, initiative and excellence in my work and personal life will take me to where I need to be in time.
What advice would you give young people just starting out in the industry?
I would tell young people that this is definitely an interesting industry. I particularly like insurance because it "touches on" many different sectors, law, medicine, construction.
I would encourage them to work hard, work well, not get caught up in office politics, contribute and participate in work related social activities as it helps to deepen your commitment to the job and wanting to see your company succeed.
Having an open mind and believing in themselves can position them to take advantage of the many wonderful opportunities that will be presented to them.
The Utilities Regulation and Competition Authority (URCA) came into existence on September 1, 2009. URCA replaced the Public Utilities Commission and the Television Regulatory Authority. URCA is supposed to act as an independent body and its main purpose is to regulate the telecommunications industry.
On its website, when clicking on the consumer section, there are five main points that URCA is supposed to ensure that competitors in the telecommunications industry execute to protect consumers. These are listed below:
o Ensuring that the quality of your utility services are satisfactory
o Ensuring that prices for utility services are reasonable
o Promoting and protecting your interest
o Promoting competition in the utility sectors
o Publishing reports on the utility sectors.
I ask the question then: What is URCA doing to ensure that the consumers of cellular services receive satisfactory service? BTC's announcement that it is upgrading its network and that there are going to be outages is not good enough. Certainly, URCA has a much bigger role to play, but as it is supposed to be an independent body, why isn't it publicly coming to the defense of the consumer?
Friday, June 15, 2012 was another day in which many businesses lost thousands of dollars because cellular services were disrupted. This in my view is unacceptable. Where is the redundancy in BTC's network? Shouldn't capabilities exist so that when the primary system is down, that the secondary system is booted up to handle all the network traffic?
If these capabilities do not exist now, I hope URCA has demanded that BTC put these systems in place for future upgrades. We have had a horrific experience with the New Providence Road Improvement Project (NPRIP) and now the upgrades at BTC are proving to be moving along the same trend. These examples are certainly not the best way to execute projects.
Maybe BTC and the decision makers of the NPRIP can look at the execution of the Nassau Airport Development Company (NAD). They are rebuilding Lynden Pindling Airport, but the airport has remained open and is still providing its core service which is to ensure that consumers depart and return to the airport safely.
Bahamians now know better and these companies who take the unpopular approach to projects without carefully considering the negative effects to its consumers had better get on with it and rethink their strategies. I say to URCA that BTC's outages are planned and the question to ask is why these planned outages can't be completed between 12 a.m. - 6 a.m.
I say to URCA, that "independent body", to please regulate and protect the consumers.
- Dehavilland Moss
I write this letter with deep consternation after reading this Komen blog (http://blog.komen.org/?p=1339) and the press reports on the Susan G. Komen and Ministry of Health announcement of a $100,000 gift to launch a breast cancer program yesterday, September 12.
It also strikes me as so ironic that, exactly one month away from Christopher Columbus' "Discovery" date we, who are supposedly an "independent" nation, are still looking to a "savior" from outside the country to "discover and rescue us". See what you lookin' at, Bahamas - wake up, and stop perpetuating this nonsense.
The Cancer Society of The Bahamas (CSB) was formed in 1976 by a small but fiercely dedicated group who worked relentlessly to form an organization dedicated to educate the public about cancer so that it may be prevented, diagnosed and treated in its early stages, to be of service to cancer patients and their families, and to raise funds to support these programs; and after close to 40 years of sacrifice, hard work and struggles in the original trenches of the cancer fight, they have built an organization that assists the local population all over The Bahamas with all forms of cancer, breast cancer being one of their primary targets.
I know the story intimately because I helped to write it as a 30-year breast cancer survivor and a past president and board member of the society. Although I have long retired from the society I still keep in contact with all of the many entities that deal with cancer care in this country.
Here is my story: When I was only 31 years old, it was the late Dr. Poad who accurately diagnosed my cancer as soon as he saw it, and referred me to the outstanding Bahamian surgeon, Dr. Earle Farrington who performed my biopsy and mastectomy at Princess Margaret Hospital with the late Dr. Wavell Thompson as the anesthetist, after the specimen was correctly diagnosed as stage one Piaget's Disease by Bahamian lab technicians and pathologists, and I recuperated in PMH with Bahamian nurses, the late Lillian Thompson and Susie Mae Lockhart, taking excellent care of me.
This was 30 years ago when we did not have all of the experts, equipment, nor amazing technology that we have today and I am still alive. So don't you think Bahamians knew what they were doing then and are doing now?
I joined the society when they were in the process of purchasing the first ever mammogram machine for The Bahamas which was donated to Princess Margaret Hospital. We knew then that "early detection was the best protection". That was our motto 30 years ago when Komen was just being formed and we were working closely with the American Cancer Society, who embraced the CSB with open arms, asked us what we needed and then shared their services, expertise and resources freely with us so that we could adapt it in whatever way we thought necessary to appeal to the Bahamian public.
We knew 30 years ago that Bahamian women's breast cancer developed at an earlier age than the U.S. statistics showed and that it was more aggressive. We might not have had the scientific data to show it, but our doctors had the empirical knowledge to advise us it was needed, so the CSB was advocating monthly breast self-examination and mammogram screenings at an earlier age decades ago.
In contrast, the Komen organization is only 30 years old and entered the Bahamian cancer scene a mere four years ago. The correct story is that they were introduced to The Bahamas through the auspices of the Bahamas Breast Cancer Initiative (BBCI) that was formed by the wife of the then U.S. Ambassador to The Bahamas, Stephanie Siegel, herself a breast cancer survivor.
Members from the Sister, Sister Breast Cancer Support Group, the Cancer Society of The Bahamas, me, and a group of extremely qualified Bahamian cancer specialists - Dr. John Lunn, Dr. Theodore Turnquest, Dr. Larry Carroll, Dr. Corrine Sinquee and Dr. Devaughn Curling - were invited by Siegel to work along with the BBCI to advance cancer care in the country. We, the Bahamians, were their respected consultants and were asked for our advice on how to achieve this.
We are the ones who have been in the trenches and on the ground from the outset; we are the ones who know our people and our country; we are the ones who patients turn to for assistance; we are the ones who have the right to set the policies and procedures because we know the story. This is our country and we must demand the respect that we deserve. Visitors to our country should have the decency to ask our permission to participate, not barge in and try to take over. But as in all such cases, if the donkey lets you get on his back, in so doing it gives you the right to ride him.
It was the BBCI who invited the Komen organization to partner with it to assist in the fight against breast cancer here in The Bahamas. It was the BBCI who informed Komen about the genetic study which was developed by most of the same brilliant Bahamian cancer specialists listed above who worked along with their colleague, Dr. Judith Hurley out of the United States, and this study was also assisted financially by the highly successful and locally organized annual cancer fundraiser Ride for Hope. I trust that these persons and organizations will also write in to elaborate on "how the story go" since many of them were not mentioned in the press reports.
I resigned from the BBCI because I was not prepared to bow to Komen's control. I refused to be told by them how and what to do to develop educational programs for women in The Bahamas based on the standards and statistics of a group who "just reach". It appears that too many people are not aware that slavery and colonialism are dead and I, for one, refuse to dance to the beat of someone else's drum especially since I was involved in writing the music "in the first beginning".
In these days and times, no person or organization should be allowed to come into the country purporting to be our "savior" with the presumption that they have the right to impose their standards unequivocally upon us, telling us how and what we must do in order to conform to their guidelines. Allowing persons to dictate their terms of engagement just because they can write a fat check is no better than prostitution and I cry shame on those who perpetuate this pathetic behavior.
I am a Bahamian first and foremost and I believe in the Bahamian people. I have respect for the successes of the Bahamian people who work hard and I have no hesitation in speaking out in their defense - so should we all.
I am therefore outraged that the Ministry of Health would deny and ignore the cancer achievements of our historical past and "diss" our own organizations and professionals by saying they want to partner with a entity from outside the country to do the very things which these organizations have already developed and have been doing for years.
This is ridiculous and a total waste of time and energy. Furthermore, just how many digital mammogram machines do we need in the country anyway, especially if we do not intend to also invest in properly training the personnel to operate and maintain them? We also refuse to enact legislation that will guarantee quality and consistency in standards of diagnosis or even enforce existing legislation that is already on the books that will protect our women from poor quality diagnosis and care.
Before independence in 1973, many of us might have been poor in the material sense, but we were richer in spirit and creativity. We were more self-sufficient and proud because we relied on our own selves and our community to sustain our existence.
Do we wish to continue to be like Oliver Twist? When we are hungry, do we want to continue to cower and plead, "Please, sir, may I have some more?" Or do we want to ask our neighbor to help us plant a seed to grow a tree that we can eventually stand next to and lift up our heads to pick the fruit to feed ourselves for generations to come? Bear in mind that this process takes time and serious nurturing with plenty of hard work and patience, but such is the long and winding road to success.
How in the world are we ever going to regain our self-respect and dignity if we continue to put out our hand in supplication instead of in collaboration? Collaboration embodies mutual respect - supplication perpetuates dependence. Ask yourself: What position and condition would you wish to encourage?
- Pam Burnside
Aliya Allen began her career in 2004 at the Attorney General's Office in civil litigation and chambers. She joined Graham, Thompson & Co. in 2007 as an associate and was quickly promoted to partner in the financial services practice of the firm in 2010. At the time, she was the youngest partner in the firm's 60 year history. Allen was recently appointed chief executive officer and executive director of the Bahamas Financial Services Board.
Guardian Business: What is the biggest challenge facing your sector? What measures need to be taken in The Bahamas to solve it?
Aliya: The intensified competitiveness of global and emerging financial centers has created a major but ultimately surmountable challenge for The Bahamas. An ongoing commitment to and investment in human capital, and raising the quality of our business environment and infrastructure will ensure that we remain well positioned to take advantage of the wealth of opportunities that exist. As a jurisdiction we have taken some important steps towards maintaining our own competitive advantage by passing no less than 15 financial services related bills at the end of last year. For instance, the Trustee Act, which was already a remarkable piece of legislation, is now after these most recent amendments, a beacon of clarity, robustness and flexibility. We have elevated our wealth management platform to the next level.
GB: How has your business or sector changed since the financial crisis?
Aliya: The financial crisis led financial centers around the world to reassess the need for regulation. The conventional theory that markets were ultimately self-correcting was challenged and after long periods of deregulation we all watched as a raft of regulation was implemented in an attempt to strengthen global financial stability.
The problem many would say is that smart regulation and a fair, consistent and balanced approach is what was required, and this is not always the approach that was taken by some jurisdictions. Thankfully, The Bahamas has always erred on the side of smart regulation.
GB: How would you describe or classify the ease of doing business in The Bahamas?
Aliya: We have seen steady improvements in this area but given the highly complex and ever-evolving nature of our competitive industry there is always room for improvement. Both the private and public sector are increasingly cognizant of the need to create advantages that are attractive to doing business in The Bahamas. We need to maintain an open mind and open dialogue on further changes that will enable us to be viewed as a jurisdiction that not only welcomes business but has a progressive attitude for facilitating the conduct of business here.
GB: What should young businesses keep in mind in this current economic climate to survive?
Aliya: That in difficult times marketing should be viewed as an investment, not simply as an expense. This is true for all businesses, not simply new ones and it is the same for financial centers. BFSB understands this paradigm all too well.
GB: What makes a great boss? What makes a bad boss?
Aliya: A great leader has vision and focus but is never hesitant to take advice. Inflexibility and dogged pursuit of your own aims, even in the face of competing viable theories is the surest way to fail.
GB: Can you describe a life experience that changed how you approach business today?
Aliya: can't speak about a single experience that has changed the way I approach business but I can speak about experiences that have shaped how I approach work. When I was a child my parents would make us stand on the dining room table every night and recite poetry and read short stories from the Royal Reader. At the time, it was a chore and we would inevitably groan, "this is boring!" However, it developed my confidence and language comprehension at an early age, and it engendered a love of language and reading that has stayed with me. Those Royal Reader nights taught me that there is no short cut for hard work and that often you have to do things you don't want to do. I've had many "Royal Reader type" of experiences since then; nights when I have stayed up till 3am thinking about a complex problem, or forced myself to go home on a Friday and power up the computer instead of winding down.
GB: What keeps you grounded?
Aliya: My family is quick to point out my failings (in a loving way) whether I want to hear them or not. I have always been encouraged to challenge conventional thought and my ideas are often challenged in the most humbling way. Recognizing my own fallibility has kept me grounded.
GB: What excites you about the sector?
Aliya: The depth of talent and experience in our sector make it an incredibly invigorating space for creative ideas and thought. BFSB has been remarkably successful in providing a forum for some of those ideas to be fleshed out and eventually turned into action. I think the ease of and ability to generate client driven solutions will be the key to our competitiveness as a financial centre and I look forward to facilitating that process going forward.
GB: What are you currently reading, or what is something you've read recently that has been influential?
Aliya: "Thinking, Fast and Slow" by Daniel Kahneman. It is a well-researched and comprehensive examination of behavioral decision-making. Kahneman posits that there are two mental systems, one that is fast and the other slow, that shape our decision-making. The "fast" system is unconscious, prone to snap judgments and easily swayed by emotion and most people are hard-wired to think this way. The "slow" system, is meticulous, conscious, fact-checking and rational and difficult to engage. Sometimes you are called on to make decisions quickly and with limited information and that is unavoidable, but this book has caused me to look more skeptically at decisions I've made in those circumstances and has changed the way I approach decision-making today. Unfortunately, the pull of "fast" system decision-making is that it often "feels" right, but it is more likely to be wrong than you think.
During the election campaign both major parties committed to long-term national planning. Former Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham promoted Jubilee Bahamas, a 10-year national planning process leading to the 2023 independence jubilee. Given his record, such a planning exercise would have been conducted extending the plans and accomplishments of his former administrations.
As it did with a number of other policy matters, the PLP followed suit, adding a twist: It promised a 30-year plan. Notwithstanding this copycat, and that 30-year plans tend to make little sense in terms of realistic planning, it remains dubious that the incumbent government will, given its past, fulfil its pledge.
But long-term planning going forward is critical, and not just because such planning is perennially essential. We are, today, in the midst of some of the more dramatic structural changes facing the country post-independence.
These changes are varied and complex. They include globalization, urbanization, economic and political modernization, and the interrelated demands of energy security and a complex of environmental issues.
These meta-challenges are occurring amidst, and are part and parcel of a combination of a deep cyclical "financial crisis-based recession" and a variety of structural changes sweeping the globe.
The better news, if we can call it that, is that we may experience a series of rolling recessions lasting the remainder of this decade, and related structural challenges stretching into the future, all resulting in widespread economic and social dislocation. The bad news is that much of the world economy can falter into a depression.
This is the global context of which any national planning must take full measure. While many more Bahamians suspect that we are entering a new normal, constituting a daily struggle to make ends meet and persistent anxiety about the future, many may not realize the nature, scope and depth of the challenges we face.
We are not solely experiencing the typical cyclical recession of which Bahamians of a certain age remember, and which usually lasted for a relatively short period. The turnaround in some tourism indicators should not obscure our deep-seated challenges.
The structural changes with which we are faced are wide-scale. Some of them have been partially discussed and hinted at by political and financial leaders. But the broader scope of these challenges is not fully appreciated by many politicians, business people, academics or journalists.
In turn, these opinion leaders have failed to articulate anything approaching the breadth of our challenges, much less the fundamental changes to our way of life they will bring about.
So, even while an increasing number of Bahamians sense that we are entering a new world, they may not yet appreciate what responding to that new world will entail on numerous fronts. The unprecedented level of change will be staggering.
Communicating the reasons why and responding to such change will not be easy for the political class, especially those still pandering to the mindsets of yesteryear even as events outstrip the make-believe they seek to pass off as reality.
Take something like a value-added tax (VAT) which the Christie administration has discussed introducing. Such a tax seems imperative in light of our accession to the World Trade Organization and desperately-needed state revenues.
But how does a government introduce such a tax to a populace used to taxes hidden in plain sight but unaccustomed to a tax measure like VAT? How does one sell the need for such a tax change to a high consumption society, inclusive of an often brand-name and status-obsessed middle class that has an entitlement mentality when it comes to what is demanded of government?
Tax reform is only the beginning. There are other potentially wrenching reforms on the horizon if The Bahamas is not to fall behind - way behind, on various fronts.
Globalization, not the fact of, but the nature and imperatives of change across the continents will have far-reaching implications. Think of the fundamental changes in our financial services sector wrought by advanced economies, and the fight over the privatization of BTC. Now multiply these many fold, and one gets a sense of what is on the horizon.
Changes like global aging, the shift in China's growth model to greater domestic consumption, and fundamental socio-economic and political changes from the U.S., Europe and Latin America to Asia and the Pacific will pose opportunities and challenges to the way the nation and government conduct its business, and the business of business.
In subsequent columns the challenges of urbanization and the attendant issues of crime and socialization will again be explored. Political modernization concerns the reform and modernization of the role and functions of government, including the level of public sector employment, and the privatization and monetizing of public services.
Economic modernization concerns far-reaching technological changes and the development of human capital in areas such as education, training and innovation, as well as the sustainable provision of social goods such as healthcare.
One burning question is how much the state can afford in terms of social welfare, and who pays for it. The Christie administration will soon face this question as it has promised comprehensive National Health Insurance. The pressures on the government will be immense from insurance companies to healthcare providers to those who may foot the bill for NHI.
The administration also faces its gargantuan promise of doubling investment in national education. Finding the resources alone will be a monumental task. But as importantly, what is the PLP's vision of education reform?
Thus far, we have heard mostly platitudes and generalities. To truly reform public education will require considerable improvement in the quality of teaching. There is no route to improving student performance without overhauling the manner in which we hire and evaluate teachers inclusive of issues of tenure and testing.
If we fail to get the human capital equation right, especially in areas like education training and innovation, our other public investments will account only for so much in terms of productivity and competition. In the area of training, our efforts should be targeted, consistent and practical, not wild-eyed about what may be possible given various cultural and sociological realities.
Also in terms of sociology, our great challenge in the area of human capital is building the capacity of scores of unemployed young people now facing formidable difficulties in terms of employment and the world of work. As critical, is the basic human development, education and training of young males, the source of both great economic potential and major crime.
And then there is the challenge of energy security amidst ever escalating energy costs which is vexing homeowners, businesses and the competitiveness of tourism and other industries.
The upcoming Rio+20 Summit, the UN Conference on Sustainable Development, will again highlight the complexity of global environmental challenges including that of climate change.
At home, from ocean acidification to rising sea levels to biodiversity, we are faced with environmental challenges that are more than structural. They are elemental to our survival. In the question of drilling for oil in The Bahamas, the issues of environment and profit collide.
While we are all faced with these challenges, the ability of our political and business leaders to understand, navigate and communicate the new world and the new Bahamas we are facing will be pivotal.
When China shifted towards capitalism and Singapore transformed itself into an economic powerhouse, it was the collective insight and dynamism of its political, business and academic elites who made these countries cutting-edge economies. Though a smaller country we are faced with the same imperative. Are we, and our elites, up to the challenge?
When Joyce Riviere graduated from college nearly four decades ago, she took a job at RBC Royal Bank at the clerical level.
The financial institution may have changed over the years, but according to Riviere, the path to becoming a top executive is consistency.
Exceeding the expectations of superiors and being willing to take on new and challenging roles have helped this leader at RBC Royal Bank achieve her career ambitions.
For International Women's Day, Riviere, area vice president of personal banking for the Family Islands, shared with Guardian Business a few inspirational words for young women with similar hopes for the future.
Education and academic qualifications are one thing, she said.
Ultimately, what it comes down to is your commitment to the profession.
"Always do your best and make sure your expectations are higher than what is expected by your organization," Riviere said. "Performance on the job is everything."
Heading a business network that spans six islands, the RBC executive is accustomed to sacrifice and getting the job done.
She told Guardian Business that over her career she has "moved around a lot", and would encourage young Bahamians to do the same.
Experience in the Family Islands, she explained, can provide employees with the opportunity to shine in smaller environments. This exposure and the chance to "stand out more" make positions in more scenic locations a smart long-term investment.
In 1999, Riviere accepted the opportunity to work as manager of the Abaco branch, a position she held for 10 years. Now, she provides leadership and support for all Family Island units.
"Some people are comfortable and do not want to compete to work at another branch. But I'm always open to taking on new and different responsibilities."
In other words, expanding horizons is another key component to success.
What is expected today might not be expected tomorrow, she explained, and it's important to apply yourself to every challenge that might come.
In addition to her work on the Family Islands, Riviere's career has been particularly dedicated to coaching and team building.
In turn, satisfaction among clients remains a top priority as employees work together to ensure a superior client experience.
"These days, you are expected to spend more time coaching. It's important to find out what is going well, what we can provide you to deliver on your job and what you want to deliver personally," she told Guardian Business.
On the client side, asking the extra questions and stepping up the presentation of financial advice are ongoing goals for RBC Royal Bank, whether the client is a young college student, a young professional or someone on the brink of retirement.
In the 1970s, when she first joined the bank, Riviere remembered that everything you needed to know could be found in books and binders. Today, the rise of electronic information and processes is perhaps one of the most profound changes in her long career.
And that trend is expected to continue in 2012.
"We are seeking to deliver more opportunities for personal clients through electronic banking as opposed to having to enter a branch. That can come in many different forms. In 2012, personal clients will have another means of conducting personal transactions without having to some into a branch," she said.
Another change she has seen over the years is the role of women.
More women are entering the financial services field than ever before, she said. If you were to look around the leadership tables of The Bahamas, at least half of those chairs, or more, are filled by women.
That said, Riviere wished to stress RBC Royal Bank's commitment to diversity and the opportunities available to women.
While the economy might not be ideal, opportunities exist for those that wish to seize them.
"Amid stiff competition, you really have to put your best performance forward," Riviere said. "If you do that, there remains a lot of opportunities. Nothing will be handed to you. You must recognize the opportunity and position yourself."
Long Island MP Loretta Butler-Turner yesterday said Prime Minister Perry Christie's criticism of her in the House of Assembly Thursday night showed that her recent attacks against the government have gotten under his skin.
"I had basically showed where the government led under him demonstrated a high level of incompetence," Butler-Turner said. "I think that must have hit a very raw nerve because the anger demonstrated by him last night was certainly very high.
"I think that the only way that he felt that he could attack me was not on context but actually on what he perceived to be, I guess, my physical appearance and I guess what he is now saying is my incompetence."
As he wrapped up the debate of an amendment to the Constitutional Referendum Act, Christie questioned how the Long Island MP, who had ministerial oversight of the Department of Social Services, could accuse him of incompetence.
"I never mind what she says, I always resent the degree that she is patronizing," the prime minister said. "It doesn't fit her, it doesn't become her, but so be it. I want her to know that the very first problem confronted by my government was the level of incompetence by her in the performance of her responsibility of her portfolio as a minister of social services."
He said when his party assumed office in May it found that children housed in the Simpson Penn Centre for Boys did not have bedding, mattresses and proper indoor plumbing.
"She subjected poor children who had no means of taking care of themselves to savage and barbaric conditions," he said.
"She is a walking case of incompetence, she walks heavily with it, she is burdened by it and she cannot escape it," he added. "Coming around here talking about incompetence.
"She should be ashamed of herself and even though it is difficult for her to walk light, she should come in here, Mr. Speaker, at least having respect to the point where you can deal with people respectfully."
Last week in the House, the Long Island MP heckled the prime minister as he made a communication on the upcoming gambling referendum. While seated, she made repeated references to his government's "incompetence" and eventually walked out of the Lower Chamber before he could finish his speech.
When she gave her contribution on the amendment Thursday, she questioned how Prime Minister Perry Christie and the lawyers in his Cabinet could come to Parliament weeks ago with no mention of legislation needed to facilitate the gambling vote only to return with an amendment meant to pave the way for the referendum.