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While the Grass Grows Tourism Sector Starves

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Wednesday, June 14, 2017

The current situation faced by Tobago’s tourism stakeholders and the measures being put in place by the Tobago House of Assembly and the central government to revitalise Tobago’s tourism sector epitomises the idiom, ‘while the grass is growing the cow is starving’.

Secretary of the Division of Tourism, Culture and Transportation, Nadine Stewart-Phillips’ February 15th announcement that the Executive Council took a decision to appoint a Tobago Tourism Authority which “would be free us of the bureaucratic systems and processes that currently plague (the) Division “, means absolutely nothing to the stakeholders in the short or medium terms.

Even her use of the word “swiftly” , to indicate the speed at which the Authority will work, does nothing to the starving stakeholders who are facing mounting costs and possibly closure because international and domestic visitors trickle in to Tobago. After all, we know that swift action in the public sector could take years.

Stewart-Phillips' advise, that the Authority's short-term goal to increase visitor arrivals while in the long term it will seek “new profitable investments to Tobago to affect an increase in dollar spent per capita,” is hard to visualise given the Division’s history.

Difficult to see because by now, one would have expected the Division to utilize the institutional knowledge it garnered during the Hochoy Charles – former Chief Secretary and Neil Wilson - former Tourism Secretary eras. During those eras, Tobago’s international visitor arrival figures soared near the 100,000 mark, annually. Now the figures are at an abysmal level - less than 20,000.

Notwithstanding changes in the global economic climate, which left the travelling public with less discretionary income to spend, the fact remains that only Tobago’s tourism is taking a beating as other Caribbean islands are experiencing some form of visitor arrival boom.

Gladly while the international market took a nose dive travel on the domestic travel market exploded. Unfortunately, this too is taking a beating as fewer domestic travellers can brave the horrendous situations-delayed flights and defective or slow fast ferries- on the air and sea bridges.

Businessmen-tourism sector stakeholders- cannot wait any longer and the THA and central government must act now to not just market Tobago abroad but improve the level of service visitors receive here. The air and sea bridges must also be permanently fixed.

In the immediate short term, the interisland transportation has to be corrected and domestic tourists lured back to these shores.

Next, marketing packages- to make Tobago comparatively attractive to international tourists, must be sold now.

If none of this is done now, then president -Tobago Chapter – Chamber of Industry and Commerce Demi John Cruickshank’s , statement that Tobago businessmen will walk to Port of Spain and hand their business and house keys to the bank may become a reality.