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CEO Thraenhart Terminated from Barbados Tourism Agency: More in the Mortar?

Aug 14, 2023

Last Updated on August 15, 2023 1:29 pm by Editor

On Thursday 10 August, the BMTI (Barbados Tourism Marketing Inc) announced, via the government official news agency GIS (Government Information Service), that by mutual agreement, it had decided to part company with the German-Canadian CEO  Dr. Jens Thraenhart hired back in November 2021.

Dr. Thraenhart’s appointment came amidst much criticism here in Barbados.  As we recall, there were two chief criticisms at the time of his appointment: first, the fact that he was not a “local boy” and second, the considerable sums of taxpayer money expended in relocating him and his family to Barbados, not to mention in salary and perks.  

By our reckoning, Dr. Thraenhart spent the considerable period of twenty- one (21) complete months in the post – less than 2 years – as CEO, for which it was claimed that an extensive global search was made.

In Barbados, when we suspect that things are not as they appear to be, we invoke an old saying: “There is more in the mortar than the pestle”.

So the question we have to ask and answer is this: Has the Barbadian taxpayer received VFM (Value for Money) in this key sector of the economy from this exercise in strategic HR management at the hand of the Barbados Labour Party administration?

We note with interest that the chairperson of the BTMI board at the time of Dr. Thraenhart’s inception is NOT the same chairperson overseeing his departure. Chairperson back then was Rose-Ann Myers; now it is Shelly Williams. 

Even if we had a blow-by-blow account of all that has transpired between the CEO and the administration the BTMI board, it is highly unlikely that we would be able to isolate a single cause of the divorce between the two. On the other hand, if we put on our critical thinking caps, we can read between and beyond the lines of newsreel and try to assess the problem with the aid of a hypothesis.

For what it is worth, let us explore the hypothesis that the principal cause of the divorce is a competence and managerial culture misfit between Dr. Thraenhart and the BTMI.  

The Competence Explanation

The BTMI under Roseann Myers, made a point about the vast experience of former CEO at his inception. On 21 October, 2021 Barbados Today published a long list of accomplishments of Dr. Thraenhart, a German-Canadian by nationality.  The interested reader can find independent information on his track record in a variety of sources including Linkedin.

We gather that the former CEO has had notable experience in some of the largest tourism markets of world, namely China, Myanmar, Thailand, Viet Nam, Cambodia.

So a key question arises: did the skill sets supposedly embedded in that experience not transfer well to the Barbadian tourism enterprise or is it that the Barbados tourism enterprise does not understand Dr. Thraenhart’s approach to tourism marketing? 

On balance, we opine the latter, if for no other reason, than the serial bloopers the Barbados tourism marketing enterprise has made in advertising over the years.  And advertising is just ONE aspect of the many strategic aspects of marketing!

The Culture Explanation

The other aspect of our hypothesis inheres in the observation that, notably missing from Dr. Thraenhart’s resume, is any experience in the Caribbean and Latin America. 

Why is this important? It is important because although there are universal principles in management and marketing, all that we know tells us that the cultural context in which these disciplines are practiced will definitely impact on the ability to get things done. In other words, it is quite possible that a similar outcome could have occurred in a Trinidad and Tobago, a St. Lucia or a Brazil.

When we add to this, the socio-political nuances and peculiarities of the Barbadian organizational and management culture (read “lethargy”, “political interference” and “incompetence”), the possibility of a mismatch between Dr. Thraenhart and the BTMI seems more than likely. 

That aside, anyone who has ever dealt with people of German origin, professionally or otherwise, know they can be overbearing with their penchant for detail. It is a national cultural trait. But you do not get engineering technology of the quality produced in Germany by NOT paying attention to detail.

That cultural trait makes Germans seem assertive, inflexible, even dogmatic.   Such an approach will not fly or fly well for long in the easy going, airy-fairy, rum-drinking, soca culture that is Barbados. The only thing that Dr. Thraenhart might easily understand is the thick bureaucracy of Barbados Government because German bureaucracy is no less viscous!

Other Issues

Readers should find Dr. Thraenhart’s comments in an interview about his taking the BTMI post here rather interesting.  Here is a notable excerpt:

Barbados has tremendous potential to create a new destination management model with the necessary political capital support. Making sustainability and inclusivity the core pillar of a balanced tourism recovery, the destination has the unique opportunity to bring in communities and stretch the tourism dollar so the leakage factor can be reduced, and more money stays I [sic]  the destination, benefiting more than just a few select. Sustainability Leaders United

Whether the CEO was able or allowed to deliver on that conceptualization of this island’s tourism marketing is quite another matter.

Alternatively, Dr. Thraenhart,  like many before him – and in several of our public institutions – may have just used the opportunity to enhance his resume, fatten his bank account and enjoy our climate, having by his own admission, visited the island only once some 15 years ago!

Telling the Barbados public that the reason for Dr. Thraenhart’s exodus is that “the BTMI needs to go in a different direction to ensure the growth of Barbados tourism” (NationNews) may sound good for those engaged in public relations, the simple-minded and political lackeys of the current administration.

The Barbados tourism strategy has always been about keeping it sustainable and inclusive, notwithstanding that fact that the tourism product (and that is not limited to accommodation) remains unexciting and boring.

So, what is the “different direction” that Chairperson Williams is talking about? In any case, if that direction is already known with any degree of certainty, why do we need a new CEO? As a mere figurehead?

Despite the mostly black functionaries and professionals that populate its middle management structure, the harsh reality is that the Barbados tourism management establishment is a tool of the hotel-owning class of which whites (local and foreign) are in the majority. 

This is NOT intended to be a racist statement or to evoke racist sentiment, just a statement of numerical facts. But let the chips fall where they might.

Together, the above facts of life make the BTMI just another political hennery in which the party faithful and sundry yard fowls rotate their time at the feeder, rather than a serious tourism transformation agency. 

The Barbados Central Bank or more appropriately, the Barbados-IMF Central Bank, can continue to tell us that tourism is still a key sector of the economy and things of that sort. That is just stating the obvious from basic statistical analysis of the economy.

What we really need – and what we are yet to find – are viable economic activities to mitigate our heavy dependence on tourism. 

But for as long as there is IMF money to be had at concessionary rates and for as long as borrowing is the chief economic strategy of this Mia Mottley led government, holding our breath as we wait for the stirring of the pool of Siloam will only lead to one outcome: asphyxiation!

Article by Dr. Aldon D. Tull


By Editor

One thought on “CEO Thraenhart Terminated from Barbados Tourism Agency: More in the Mortar?”
  1. Well written article. I took a whole month before it was reported to the Barbadian public.
    What new direction?? Ms. Williams you must do better. Having spent 37 years working in tourism I am anxious to hear of the new direction.

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