Tourism: 365 Days Later

After the September 2015 election, Trinidad and Tobago newly elected Prime Minister Dr. Keith Rowley appointed one of his most vociferous candidates Ms.Shamfa Cudjoe to head the Ministry of Tourism. Minister Cudjoe after her appointment indicated her willingness to understand the industry with the support from her team of consultants in order to develop creative strategies for the industry.

Within the early part of 2016 the Minister installed a standing committee to develop a Strategic and Sustainable Development Plan for Tourism chaired by Dr Acolla Lewis Cameron; and the other was to conduct a baseline survey by the research arm of the Ministry of Tourism.  This initial mandate spearheaded by the Minister was the first step to developing a holistic plan. Having said that, it was apparent that reports produced in 2011 delivered by the previous standing committees, at the cost to the state, were shelved.

As time progressed so did the commencement of regular duties, such as, the promotion for Carnival, representation at ITB and other smaller tourism engagements that falls within the minister’s portfolio. However a few months later, the Minister was engaged in defending the removal of the appointment of the chair of TDC, quickly followed by an unsupported marketing spend for “Soca on the Seas”.

By mid-year, the Minister contradicted her initial statement by suggesting that the National Tourism Policy 2010, and the 1995 Tourism Master Plan would be used to guide the industry.  TDC then re-launched the 2005 domestic “Stay to Get Away” campaign however this was without the inclusion of many bona-fide stakeholders.Certainly,  this move sent many stakeholders in an uproar and her apology made thereafter did not garner support.

The removal of the CEO of the TDC and the cancellation of international representation were other spurious moves that occurred without tactic resource replacement to execute effective management and marketing plans for the destination.

Sometime later in the year, in a bid to connect to the populace, the Minister’s mantra became, “Tourism is everyone’s business!”.  Was the Minister aware that her mantra was a tweak of “Our Tourism is about all of us!” from the previous administration, which incidentally, was adopted from another destination’s strategic plan?

To her credit alliances with airlines and cruise liners were made for both islands with the hope that it would increase visitor ship. Realistically it sounds great, however, based on T&T destination marketing, the imagery of the popular Maracas Bay, a tourist attraction is populated throughout the various mediums. This hideous and butchered bay without any sign of improvements to the beach and facility would definitely communicate false messaging of our natural attraction to the visitors that they seek!

By September the Strategic Committee offered it’s “road map” to stakeholders which became fervently apparent that there is nothing new or innovative that would drive the marketing potential to a peak anytime soon. Their plan, was further debased by the release of $86 M fiscal allocation from Central Government.

As 365 days comes to a close, the Minister shared on a talk show that her visits to the hotels early in the year made her realize there is a need for quality and standards for many operators, which is one of her priorities for product development. The other focus areas would be to re-tool the TDC and destination marketing. Again, wasn’t the Minister informed that the industry always maintained standards, which was once within the remit of  TDC? This responsibility is now in the hands of the the Bureau of Standards, however, all International chains, and  operators in  Tobago are not involved in the quality standards program. Coincidentally, if there is no formidable plan for destination marketing or secondary product development that will attract higher tourism receipts or visitor-ship, then  natural course of action for many operators would be to stall investment upgrades.

Perhaps, the contradictions made by the Ministry over the year was the impetus that forced the recent press release by the collective tourism bodies for the intervention of the Prime Minister. The situation at present for many stakeholders left fighting for survival in our present state are converting  inventory to real estate opportunities, such as office spaces and apartments. Many are also considering lease options, or placing properties on the market. This may leave the Government as the only stakeholder in tourism.

Moreover, according to Professor Watson, “Many of the social and economic institutional structures in Trinidad and Tobago are failing one after the other” and it is critical for foreign exchange for our country to survive. Tourism, is one such industry that can improve our FOREX situation, therefore, this tension that the country is in should raise alarm bells, as the tourism industry is struggling to positively impact the economy. Notwithstanding the fact that the call for intervention is at time where there are socio-cultural, economic and environmental impacts in Trinidad and Tobago. Our beautiful destination has been under attack from nefarious criminal activities; major health risks such as Ebola, Swine Flu, Zika; migrant influx, brain drain on skilled labour, land and sea bridge issues, poor product development to name a few.

It is my perspective , the dynamism for reshaping this volatile industry is an overwhelming challenge for anyone at the helm. It is clear that competitive positioning for Trinidad and Tobago, which is not an established tourism destination, would require a truly innovative road map that would bridge relationships among various sectors and with the THA marketing authority. It is no longer acceptable for the tourism industry to be misguided into a hamster’s wheel. Stakeholders expect insightful advise, leadership to move the industry and accountability to the public of achievements made –Public Relations is bit over-rated these days!

 

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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