Some researches are of the opinion that government authorities may be a better framework to curate a tourism product. It was inferred that an authority will have less political bureaucracy, less interference, better selection of resources and a higher level of accountability. Business dictionary defines a government authority as “Institutionalized and legal power given to a body created by a government to perform a particular function”.
Perhaps an idealistic goal for Trinidad and Tobago as there seems to be more political influence depending on the elbow grease that is offered.
The development of tourism in the western peninsula of Trinidad is controlled and managed by a government authority referred to as Chaguaramas Development Authority (CDA). In 1972, The CDA was enacted by Parliament -Act #37, to develop land comprising of about fifty six (56) square miles. This authority has been operational for at least forty four (44) years with at least eight master plans and only one approval for land use by Parliament in 1974.
However CDA seems to be plagued with controversy as all agreements of land lease have had political interference which appears similar to that of the surreptitious land grab acquisitions of Caroni (1975) Limited.
What is also strikingly consistent is the sentiments shared by stakeholders , environmentalists, residents and members of the public about the issues of lease agreements and letters of comfort. Concerns have been voiced, but not acknowledged on several matters, for instance: The lease agreement for the acquisition and commencement date under agreement for the Chaguaramas Convention Center; The bidding process for the Waterpark; The issue of land allocation to crop farmers; An upgrade to the facilities at Macqueripe; Clean up programs; The issue of public exclusion to the beach in front of Guava Road and Chaguaramas Bay; The sustainability of the boardwalk; Environmental Management Authorities lack of interest to prevent Carnival J’ouvert events in a natural habitat zone; Marine Water Testing programs for sea bathers, Wasa Sewerage Plants and Waste Water Management; Security Concerns; and Traffic Management.
It is also thought provoking as to why the western peninsula development is in a conundrum when the land allotment that is managed by CDA represents only one percent of the world famous Yellow Stone National Park (3,468 square miles) in the USA .
This article will focus on the most recent contention which was exposed when a public advertisement was issued in June 2016, inviting private investors to bid for land at the tracking station to build a hotel. An assumption could be made that one of CDA’s proposed plans would have prompted the authorities decision. The premise is either CDA strategic plan 1995-2000 or CDA Master Plan 2011-2015? Incidentally, both plans follow similar perspectives, one proposal listed all areas to be developed and the other described the development of the areas identified in clusters with minor nuances. They were both aligned to tourism and preservation of land reserves for the natural habitat. Even the landing page of the CDA website shares a vision of eco-centric activities, healthy lifestyle for families, hiking trails, natural waterfalls, cycling and foot path zones, agri-tourism , marine, and industry .
The strategic plan 1995-2000 noted that ” The tracking station site with its clean air and invigorating atmosphere is an excellent site for a health spa with appropriate accommodation. The area surrounding the tracking station road will be developed into a botanic garden.”
The CDA master plan , Jan 2015 [ http://chaguaramas.com/master-plan/master-plan-document, pg 132] highlights The Observatory as an area of unpolluted urban lights. This plan proposed building an outdoor theatre and, an events area in front of the satellite. The plans also indicated the removal of the decaying building to be used for non-permanent eco camping lodge.
The contradictions of both proposals only exemplifies the lack of preservation, history and a lost future for Chaguaramas. Isn’t lights required to have an open theatre? What is meant by appropriate accommodation? What mode of transportation would be used to transfer guests to/from their accommodation/glamp without any hindrance to nature?
From the vignette of CDA plans, the changing of guards and the convenient legitimacy for another land lease agreement are components in this quagmire. But what is even more disingenuous is that there is no proposed plan for the present CDA project at the tracking site and obviously no engagement toward the carrying capacity.
So where do we go from here? In my perspective the Western Peninsula would be destroyed if CDA continues to exploit the virtues of ecotourism.There are many suggestions to develop a road map for an identifiable tourism product but I will focus my comments on the tracking station.
Simply consider cleaning up the observatory, with walking/cycling paths and an area to picnic or star gaze. Consider using the building to offer facilities, concession area, media room that can be rented; Forge partnerships with the astrological society to host star gazing events; Have areas identified for wedding photography , photo shoots or movie makers; Ensure that there are only golf carts or electric vehicles allowed to enter with an approved guide; Preserve as much as possible along the picturesque bamboo cathedral and have areas along the path as feeding areas for birds and howler monkeys where visitors can appreciate our real tropical rainforest.Lastly, consider the concerns from the public and its present impact to the area. It is critical for our island to have at least one unique natural haven which CDA has the power to make an impact for the benefit of all visitors to enjoy the Western Peninsula.
Author: Lisa Shandilya, MBA.(Specialized), CEM., B.Sc., 20 years Practitioner in the Hospitality and Service Sector, Member of THRTA, International Hospitality and Service Industry .
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