Is poli-tricks stifling tourism?

One of the components within the pillars of tourism is leadership and its congruent relationship among the ministries, associations, and government to foster growth. Within the past few years,  T&T witnessed a game of “musical chairs” for the seat of Chairman within the Tourism Development Company (TDC); and a game of “reshuffle” for the post of Tourism Minister.

The latest uproar in tourism, was the termination of the sitting chair of  TDC on the basis of loss of confidence by the Directors of the Board. The Chair, having worked closely during the campaign with the now sitting Minister of Tourism, fearlessly spoke out citing issues of poor corporate governance.

With that being said, Mr Afra Raymond’s article “Board Games”[Trinidad Express, 2016,May 29] stated that ” The lack of an open process for selection of State enterprise board directors means that the entire arrangement can be seen as “Grace and Favour” appointments, in which certain persons are favored over others.”  

Where does the fault lie?  How transparent are these institutions with hiring policies, performance evaluations/ metrics in order to get the job done, if the credentials of candidates holding the position as Director, Chairman, GM, CEO, Advisor, Specialist, or even the Minister, are limited in their knowledge of the industry. Sadly, the few remaining stalwarts in the industry who are available to add value may possibly be  weathered with the ups and downs, and political bias from obscene nepotism, to be actively re-engaged.

In actuality, when Ministers are reshuffled, they would realign the offices of the Permanent Secretary  and the Chairman because of two main reasons: 1. To ensure that they have loyalty and ; 2. That personnel must follow instructions according to personal or political agenda. So, what is the political agenda?  Who is instructed to deliver the agenda?  Who is expected to benefit from the agenda?  Should  the government past and present be blamed, after all, leaders have changed and political agendas have changed?

Unfortunately, the turbulence that occurred over the years have stifled TDC via mandates from the sitting Minister to abandon,manipulate,suspend or ignore actions to be addressed by the board, suffice to say , nothing tangible would be derived for the industry. When last has Tourism actually realized its significant contribution to GDP, given that there is a strategic plan in place?

Let me refer to an article written by Shaliza Hassanali headlined “PP, PNM treated tourism as bastard child”[May,2016]; which gave viewpoints from former officials who held public posts. Firstly, it pained me to read a headline that the industry is perceived as a “bastard child”. It is irresponsible for anyone to echo such an asinine statement especially someone who held public office.

TDC is a well funded special purpose company established in 2005, however, “Ah eat ah food”   seemed to have been the modus operandi for this Ministry, as no one paid attention to the non lucrative returns.

Simply put, the focus by Government have always been on the energy sector because of its fiscal contribution to T&T’s economy. Agreeably, the Tourism industry can contribute billions to the national GDP  but again, who would be the lead to take charge  without pursuing avenues for profiteering?

From my nebulous recollection from past budget reviews, government allocate billions for initiatives and plans as advised by consultants and advisors, collectively for THA ,TDC and MOT.  That being said, what has been the outcome of the monies that was spent over the years as there has been no measurable growth in arrivals.

What is our position on branding? What is the position at Maracas Beach? Why are there issues with Lion House being in disrepair? Why is sponsorship given without metrics? Why is there a convention bureau fully funded by Government? Explain the rationale for the recent spend of marketing dollars for “Soca on the Seas” on Royal Caribbean vessel from Miami to Bahamas? – I shudder to think it’s because the promoter is Trini to de bone! 

According to the article by Hassanali, the sitting Tourism Minister stated ” Right now the government has instructed and is conducting a review of the ministry and the TDC arm of the ministry. We have a regional consultant who has been meeting with the staff in TDC…”. What does this mean?   Which framework is being adopted?  Why are standing committees being re-created with members whose aptitude is not within the sector? Is it another wishlist report to be generated as in 2011, and 2005; and possible training for the committee members to understand the industry.

Therefore in my perspective,if corporate governance is compromised in a state enterprise then that is a critical area to be addressed. Furthermore, if  leadership which includes the players at various tiers in the industry are irresponsible and unaccountable  to the sector then tourism will never be a pivotal pillar for diversification. It is strongly recommended that poli-tricks take a back seat to effectively reshape the landscape for tourism to prosper.

Author: Lisa Shandilya, MBA.(Specialized), CEM., B.Sc., 20 years Practitioner in the Hospitality and Service Sector, Member of THRTA
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