A worldwide panic

The tourism industry has been experiencing a series of epidemic outbreaks for over two decades such as SARS, Bird Flu, Foot and Mouth disease, Dengue, and Ebola. Therefore crisis of this nature, is not uncommon to the tourism industry however, it depends on whether our tourism arm has a stringent crisis management plan capable of dealing with such complex situations.

Every year, at the start of the rainy season, the Ministry of Health, Trinidad and Tobago initiate programs to educate the local populace in practices on preventative methods (waste management, vector control, environmental sanitation and chemicals management); and equipping emergency care centres to reduce the spread of dengue. Dengue hemorrhagic infection and Chickungunya are both transmitted to humans by mosquitoes which is common to tropical regions from acute to fatal cases.

Dengue has been a serious cause of concern for many countries in Central America with high mortality rates reported in Honduras and El Salvador.  Chikungunya, is a recent infection that has surfaced in Trinidad this year, but does not result in death. Because mosquito infections are common to the islands, hoteliers would do their due diligence during that time of year to enforce measures of vector control, and other best practices to reduce the risk of infections to guests and employees.

Fortunately, the islands custodian to the safety of the nation’s health have managed to maintain a good track record in keeping dengue under control. This is important for the tourism industry as a visitor’s positive perception of the health safety record of the county would have a positive purchase decision.

The question is what happens with a crisis that is new or uncommon to our region?  Since World Health Organisation (WHO) declared an Ebola outbreak in Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea, in May 25, 2014, the World is now on alert. The virus has crossed borders into other geographical regions and WHO has to act fast to ensure that this virus does not spread out of control.

Ebola virus is a fatal hemorrhagic infection disease (EVD) known to have plagued West Africa for year which can be transmitted to humans by humans and has a 90% fatality rate. This virus is not airborne but can be contacted from direct contact of bodily fluids such as saliva, blood, vomit, sweat or feaces, urine semen

 

WHO (World Health Organisation) would provide information on a broad spectrum of support for public health organizations such as, guidance on surveillance , particularly in border controls, support with consolidated efforts in resource mobilization, diagnostic testing ,improved ways to protect health care workers, and education material to mitigate against infection. WHO understands that rumours can run rampant in a health crisis and it is therefore critical to have command and control over the flow of information so as to stem misconceptions and curtail speculation.

Our island’s national emergency unit, ODPM and Ministry of Health recently held a press conference on the Ebola outbreak in Africa to the local population. They have ensured stringent measures would be put forward such as port of entry screening units, identified treatment centre and qualified health care professionals for the centres in Trinidad. All alerts and briefings have been provided to immigration officers and stewardesses, to be aware of any visitor that has symptoms closely resembling the virus and the sensitivity of ways in dealing with the situation. They have assured the population that we can trust that they would do their best to avoid any incidents to arise in our country.

Then what will happen if a person possibly by-pass initial screenings at the airport or exited from a cruise on our shores with the dreaded virus? For this reason it is important for stakeholders in the tourism sector (taxi operators, hotels, and restaurants), associations and public agencies to be prepared with pre-crisis emergency plans. It is expected that both Health and Tourism ministries should collaborate with a basic pre crisis plan to:

  1. Educate stakeholders on ways to manage even the slightest sign should it occur;
  2. Provide in-room information leaflets to all visitors of safety concerns;
  3. Support stakeholders with the sensitivity of information of a possible casualty so that the property is not perceived with risk;
  4. To assure the safety of the workforce in the industry;
  5. Establish with private sector accessible safety kits for items such as face masks, gloves, disposable tissue packs, bleach solution and thermometers within a period of time.

 

Every property, regardless of its size or international affiliation should develop a sound understanding of how an Ebola would affect the tourism industry. The tourism Industry in Uganda in 2010 had several Ebola cases but they took proactive steps to ensure that the industry would not be adversely affected. On another note, Singapore, won an award for the country that had the best crisis plan in the tourism sector to deal with SARS outbreak. Both countries managed to regain trust and have seen in bound arrivals improving over the years.

Therefore, lessons can be learnt and applied to develop contingency plans to effectively detect and or at least find ways to minimize any potential crisis without making a visitor feel discriminated.

Here are some pre-crisis tips shared by some international hoteliers who experienced clients infected with SARS virus:

  1. Work with the Ministry of Tourism to provide Information / Leaflets about the disease to the customer , visitor , workforce;
  2. Offer masks and disposable thermometers to the customer who appear ill;
  3. Ensure that workforce is equipped with protective gear;
  4. Get medical support to brief hospitality members to include basic procedures in their crisis plan;
  5. Discuss with industry members of any clients who may be at risk at your property;
  6. Increase health and sanitation awareness with workforce ensuring their safety at all times;

The other phases of a crisis management plan is extremely important for policy makers and stakeholders in the industry but for now at least initial steps can be implemented. So let us be proactive in working towards keeping our industry on a healthy course!

ebola

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Tourism competitiveness in 2014/2015

budget logo-2014-BW_1

For the past twelve years there have been statements about developing tourism in an effort to diversify our economy which was reiterated by President Anthony Carmona who said, “Our traditional oil and gas philosophy does not have conservation as a crucial component and we can ill afford to continue to spend billions of dollars which are not reflected in the improved capital of our country” at the 52nd year of Independence toast to the nation.  His endearing voice spoke in a tone of a “call to action” for development, however I believe that the Budget 2014/2015 did not introduce new and innovative plans to produce tangible results and long term objectives for sustainable growth.

I start my analysis of the 2014 budget presentation with a quick recap of a 2013 proposed five year macro plan to bring both islands, Trinidad and Tobago to a rank of 30 out of 148 in the global competitiveness index.  Interestingly, historical data from the World Economic Forum (WEF) has shown Trinidad and Tobago is still in a static position in terms of its competitiveness ranked between 79 to 83 out of 140 member states.  Therefore in 2014, Trinidad and Tobago should have identified appropriate policies of all the indicators that will comply with the macro and micro environment to achieve this goal ,yet we are still at the rank of 83. So in theory the competitiveness framework is instrumental in developing policies and strategic direction that supports a national vision which is paradoxical to the 2013 statement.

The instruments for tourism budget presented from 2011- 2014 has been based on the Medium Term Policy Framework ( MTPF) drafted by the Ministry of Planning and the Economy ( http://www.pesrga.gov.tt p. 83-88)  which identifies several projects and its challenges. The model of development uses an approach based on cluster formation, whereby other sectors can work in tandem to build and develop a sustainable structure for tourism in Trinidad and Tobago thereby having every “cog in the wheel” working towards achieving the vision.

In examining the 2014/2015 budget statement there seems to be replicated initiatives of projects which has had financing and stakeholders have not been seeing the strategies that bear fruit to the tourism industry.  The Hon. Minister identified:

  1. The Southern Caribbean Cruise project which has been considered again but yet the population is unaware of the rate of return on this investment and whether this project is putting the cart before the horse. In other words, the sector of Works and Infrastructure should be funded to develop the international ports for cruise liners then entertain a Southern Caribbean Cruise where there are measures to determine the success factor of this project.
  2. An ongoing initiative of the room stock upgrade program used as a process of driving the development of the hotel facilities is important for the industry to improve its Revpar and for the Government to gain a higher tax return. The reimbursement of 25% is an incentive, and the government loan guarantee and its extension of time is welcomed. It would be interesting if there are ambiguous legislation within the Hotel Act or bureaucracy that can hamper accessibility to this initiative.  I would have preferred to have seen a medium term loan guarantee for small properties under 50 rooms as banks are skeptical to lend in this climate.
  3. How often have the Government funded the Maracas beach project? It is of course welcomed but this time I hope proper procurement, feasibility studies, performance evaluations and reputable contractors are assigned to change this landmark site with a deadline date for completion.
  4. The move for NAPA to a private sector enterprise and out of the management of the Ministry of Tourism (“a stakeholder”) is critical for the private sector growth and trust in the industry.
  5. The Hon. Minister spoke about areas which are pertinent for the sector in terms of driving private /public sector partnerships to increase inbound visitors
  • Improvements to Piarco International Airport and ANR International Airport;
  • The re-engineering of Caribbean Airlines management to enhance its service for International and Domestic; and Tobago air bridge;
  • The development of sporting infrastructure to promote the sport tourism trend again is welcomed;
  • The development of yachting industry and training facilities;
  • The development of drilling schools and training centres;
  • Nursing and Training facilities and Medical centres which can promote medical tourism trend;
  • Introduction of Eco vehicles for mass/private transportation would reduce the carbon footprint which would improve the island’s environmental ranking.

Unfortunately I have had no information on the breakdown of funding for the tourism sector so it will be a bit preemptive for me to justify whether the budget is within reason. What is the appropriation of funds for branding Trinidad and Tobago as a tourism destination? Also what is the funding for the marketing efforts of the destination and is it within the national vision plan?

Areas where investment should have also been appropriated is in the development of the human capital for the industry and research and development if the Government want to achieve the five year vision tourism plan.

Overall the 2014 budget did not articulate new innovative plans to excite local investors to expand their operation.