What tourism policy?

      What is Haiti’s strategy to re-invent the island’s tourism sector to attain private-equity firms to invest in hotels, resorts and transportation projects after years of political struggles, financial impropriety and natural disasters?

Barbados, on the other hand, under the successive stewardship of Ministers Miller and Lynch, developed aggressive policies that positively impacted the island’s tourism sector ranking the island as one of the top Caribbean destinations.

Theoretically, a tourism policy is a component from a national model and should be regulated by the public sector. It is a working document that identifies future projections of tourism receipts beyond government conjunctures.

What the tourism policy attempts to do is to provide a clear plan of action from short, medium to long term goals; to identify destination targets of travel for cultural, trade and other pertinent business which translates to economic benefit for the country; to build well informed customers that will promote the product of the islands; to interest investors, to improve on the heritage and culture of the people; to develop infrastructure; to secure financial funding to support projects, and to build a more sustainable tourism. However, the tourism policy cannot be static as the tourism sector is dynamic in nature therefore recommending that reviews are done to tweak the actions plan to accommodate change.

Research has shown that partially funded tourism organisations work on tourism receipts and sales quotas to fund the organisation. These organisations cannot be lapsed in their strategic marketing efforts otherwise they will fold. Almost all smaller destinations in the world and the Caribbean manage their tourism operations from the state support. Evidently successful public tourism organisations must have the political will to access resources to improve competitiveness to achieve the national tourism goal.

A tourism policy cannot be copied and adapted to a destination, especially if a destination is to offer a unique and identifiable product offering in a global market place. Recently, a comment was posed to the Minister of Finance at a post-budget debate 2014, suggesting that Trinidad and Tobago (T&T) should adopt the Dubai model for development of our island tourism product based on the premise that both nations are owners of non-renewable energy. Agreeably Dubai, in a space of thirteen years managed to quadruple its inbound tourist arrivals being the most luxurious and sort after destination in the world. However, it should be noted that the tourism component was not in isolation for Dubai’s aggressive action for their country.

The fact is , Trinidad and Tobago have been following models over the years , the pre-colonial system of governance and the fatally adopted western world ideologies, a toxic combination,  without critical reflection of what, why, how or where our island’s should be in the long term.

For any model to be effective it requires strong private/public sector relationship that is beneficial for investors, communities, culture and heritage, economy, environment and the human resources. Additionally, researched data have shown that government and the tourism public sector advisers or leaders must be of a futuristic ilk with a clear vision for the country and its populace for tourism development.

For instance, Prime Minister of T&T, Mrs. Kamla Persad-Bissessar, at the start of her tenure engaged several international audiences in Asia, London, New York, Panama and Brazil promoting T&T. Who should have channeled these efforts? Is this a failure of her government or the failure of the management of the state enterprise mandated to market the destination?

Perhaps one should question whether Trinidad and Tobago have a national framework of which one of the components is the national tourism policy? One can argue that Trinidad and Tobago has a national tourism policy (http://www.ema.co.tt/new/images/policies/tourism_policy.pdf) which was drafted in 2008 and published in 2010; and there is also a tourism act, 2000 (minor updates in 2006).

Researchers within the Caribbean highlighted in several published articles, a series of on-going challenges which has positioned T&T at a standstill in destination performance.

The first issue is the weak congruent relationships among the three public tourism institutions which has had conflicts in driving tourism as a unified voice that is glaringly evident in the marketing strategies for the islands. The second challenge is that decisions are ad hoc without alignment to a policy which has had projects at a stalemate thereby increasing financial costs. This was evident with the incentive plans, the green globe project, the blue flag project and the recent “tOURism is about us” marketing campaign to name a few. And finally, the politics, which seem to be a major contributor to the weaknesses of tourism not only in T&T. Issues , such as, nepotism of the Government in power, the internal politics within public tourism organisations and the profiteering pseudo consultants are some common occurrences faced by the sector.  According to research many wielding the power in state owned tourism enterprises, are not necessarily the politicians, but those with agendas who are retained as advisers irrespective of government in power, whose intent is to keep the system at a stalemate for their own prosperity.

Therefore, Is T&T national tourism policy well designed and effective to fuel our national tourism goals?  Perhaps, more research is needed to identify which simulated model is practiced by the state owned tourism organisation in T&T : 1. “Cart before the horse” model  whereby  plans or incentives are introduced for the sector by ignoring the  bureaucratic formalities; 2. “The Knee Jerk”  model ,whereby the industry becomes reactive rather than proactive in a crisis; 3. “The Clueless” model whereby the workforce in the tourism organisations do not have the passion or skill sets to be involved in tourism;  4. “The oil syndrome” model whereby tourism funds are  hemorrhaged without understanding whether it will impact on increased tourism receipts; and  5. “The blame game” model whereby everyone point fingers at the sitting government and opposition without either side validating measures to diversify the sector.

In reflection, transformation of the tourism sector can be driven in T&T once the leadership embraces the complexity of the industry to deliver innovative ideas through a well-designed framework of a national tourism policy with performance measures regulated by an established team of knowledgeable public/ private sector partners. Just saying!


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