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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.