It is rare that an industry which generates as much as $5 billion to the national economy, provides 33,000 people with well paid jobs, and contributes 8% to GDP, is treated with such studied indifference.
Of course we are talking about the best kept secret in Caribbean tourism: Trinidad and Tobago.
Over the last decade, our tourism industry has had to navigate its way through the policy shoals and separate agendas spawned by five different ministers, as well as five different TDC boards of directors – three of these coming under the current PP government.
As a consequence tourism to Tobago has fallen off from a high of 96,000 arrivals in 2005 to 35,000 last year, and many tourism businesses are now either operationally insolvent, or on the verge of bankruptcy.
It is against this tragic tapestry that the tourism stakeholders, not always a homogeneous group, came together this week to share their horror and distress at yet another change in political leadership.
Despite their manifestly different concerns they were unstinting in their appreciation for the role of the TDC under the chairmanship of Brian Frontin over the last six months, during which time room revenue in Trinidad has surged by 19.6%.
They were also unanimous in their optimism for the future, if this leadership remains in place. Conversely they expressed great concern for the consequences of any further dislocation.
Minister Howai, in his budget address parroted other political leaders with a call for rapid diversification in the economy, and Minister Barrath restated Minister Dookeran’s mantra describing government’s principal role as “Providing an environment in which the private sector can thrive”.
Surely it should not take an economic genius to identify tourism as the prime candidate to make this a reality.
Already a significant economic sector, tourism in both islands represents only the tip of a much bigger iceberg if it is allowed to develop and expand.
Tobago is stifled by limited airlift, and is almost single market dependent, largely because it lacks the critical mass of internationally competitive accommodation necessary for the travel trade to work with.
Addressing this concern, Chris James, the new president of the Tobago Hotel Association, has called for at least 1,500 new international quality rooms to be built in Tobago, but went on to lament the total lack of confidence presently displayed by the financial community as a consequence of government’s perceived disinterest in tourism.
For tourism to fulfill its obvious potential, it must move up the government’s agenda, and it is to try to achieve this, that the tourism stakeholders, represented by a coalition of tourism associations led by the THRTA, have written today requesting an urgent meeting with the prime minister, and now anxiously await her response.
Trinidad Hotels, Restaurants and Tourism Association