Would sharing economy transform the tourism sector?

The sharing economy concept emerged in Europe almost five years ago and has been gaining momentum globally ever since. It was only a matter of time for this economic model to enter the Caribbean marketplace disrupting smaller destination tourism sector.

The word “share” used in this hybrid economy enable consumers to access physical assets from owners in exchange for money, through digital platforms. For instance, owners are sharing physical under-utilized assets or temporary idle capacity such as cars, unoccupied home or villa, spare rooms, even office spaces and resources. Whilst this is not truly a new phenomena, the digital age has opened it up for increased micro-entrepreneurs in the service industry in various areas: Peer to Peer Accommodation; Transport Sharing; Peer to Peer Dining; and Peer to Peer Tours and Experiences.

The two leading players in sharing economy are Uber and Airbnb, with a myriad of new apps designed almost every day for our smartphone devices. Even the more familiar online travel agencies, such as Expedia and Booking are trying to strengthen their online monopoly by breaking the barriers to absorb Airbnb  market share.

In 2016, a study was conducted in Texas on the effects of P2P on the tourism sector. The results showed that hotel earnings declined significantly mostly affecting motels and small hotels, whilst, car sharing platforms increased competition against car rentals and tour companies. Because P2P is still in its infancy, studies are still on-going to determine the potential effects on the supply and price of housing if home sharing becomes widespread. It will also be interesting for a study to be conducted on the effects of sharing economy on the tourism sector in Caribbean destinations, especially when many owners survive on the classic tourism model.

This online connectivity routed through infrastructural networks and software have given consumers buying power directly from service providers who offer flexibility and good price ratios. These platforms are sophisticated, accessible and easy to use which incredibly generates a level of trust from the consumer. Even pragmatic consumers, are now making purchasing decisions on these platforms based on reviews, photos and videos.

Evidently the classic tourism model which existed for over fifty (50) years would be threatened by P2P platforms, more-so in smaller destinations. P2P economies will also have a significant impact on the destinations economic taxation system and policies as technology through these channels will continue to disrupt with unfair competition,  taxation burdens;  health insurance or other coverage; safety standards and other rules of compliance. Thus, this presents to the regulatory authorities two major challenges on dealing with the issue: One is related to the service itself; and the second issue is related to platforms. The issue with platforms is that it changes so rapidly making it more challenging to determine what will be the “new norm” in digitized markets.

The only way government can address sharing economy platforms is through a sound regulatory framework which fortunately for Trinidad and Tobago, consultations are presently being addressed. The current draft posted on the website under Ministry of Tourism (Dec, 2017) seemed to be bench marked on older frameworks from other destinations that is in existence years ago. As it is often said “one size does not fit all”!

Interestingly, one of the states in America included a CAP structure, which created boundaries between registered operators under the state and incidental providers who are aligned to unofficial channels. The logic was simple as they expected to get information from the platforms which they would monitor to determine if tax should be enforced. This measure however could not be sustained as these platforms has privacy laws making it difficult for the government to access data, and secondly it requires an arm of monitors which is a very costly exercise.

Is it that far fetched for government to review their policies now to be able to explain their relative success in light of technological advancements? Since, there are no benchmarks for digitized P2P, it would be worthwhile to address the future of  technological threats to economic and financial structure to classic economic models. Again, let’s use the opportunity at this time to make things right for the viability of the sector.


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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Let’s review the Business and Bacchanal of Carnival

Trinidad’s most viable tourism event for the year,  “The Greatest Show On Earth” , begins in January and End with the Parade of Bands on the streets, the day before Lent.  The island becomes the epicenter of cultural diversity hosting a culmination of events for the season which attracts a myriad of economic opportunities for small to large enterprises.

Interestingly, for a destination that celebrates Carnival every year we seem to be plagued by recurrent issues from stakeholders, promoters , monopolies, sea and air bridge , immigration , to name a few. Albeit, all issues that arise are integral components that should influence and shape the development from  pre to post activities of our Carnival Tourism Product.

This year, one of the most popular pre-carnival  activity ,”Tent” shows, closed it’s  doors. Surely, the promoters should have seen this coming for sometime now as they did not re-engineer their product brand to meet with the future demands. Therefore, this situation cannot be blamed on government’s cut in subsidies as argued by some stakeholders of the show. From my own experience , I may have visited a Tent Show about nine years ago. It was a packed hall where patrons were sardine-canned into a hot sweltering room to listen to performances that was poorly stage managed and monotonous. This  did not encourage me to continue Tent Shows as a MUST DO calendar event. With that being said, Tent shows are unique to Trinidad and a viable product offering which needs to be revisited.

Another popular pre-activity is the Kings and Queens of Carnival in the Savannah which in my opinion, is the most beautiful spectacle of art, appreciated by a small group of patrons. Having been to Caribana, Toronto I was amazed to witness a full capacity hall of patrons eagerly awaiting to see our own mas designers bring their costumes to life. What I also appreciated was the clean environment, well appointed concession stands and comfortable seating for artistes and patrons to enjoy their evening. I wonder if research work is done to determine why people are not interested in these shows in Trinidad? How can management spur rivalry in competition and ensure that our young artists can participate in new creative portrayals for these competitions?

Pan,our national instrument can be witnessed at pan yards in various communities in Trinidad and Tobago during the season. Due credit must be given to Exodus, for the best pan yard in the country, which allows me the opportunity to question what has Pan Trinbago done over the years to showcase Pan? What have they done to improve the acoustic layout of pan on the stage,  the general facilities and cleanliness offered to patrons , concession owners and the performers?

Panorama event has several orchestras of steel drums arranged by musical geniuses that prepare these bands for the big show. For me, it was an absolute joy to witness Renegades Band this year and the intricacies of the musical melody arranged by Stewart.  After witnessing what we have as a tourism product, why encourage a fete on the same day of Pan Semis to divert interest from supporting  these “panist” who worked night after night to perform for the people/our culture. Perhaps, the Greens Fete may have been a cash cow for Pan Trinbago, but who really benefits and where is the future for pan in this?  Nevertheless, I would commend the management for the changes made this year to the show and I hope that they step back and review again , to ensure that there is an improved production and it continues to progress.

Another grand production which has strong significance to our carnival is the Dimache Gras; even the smaller screening competitions  that lead up to Carnival Sunday. These productions have carried the same vapid style over the years, poor stage management, certainly not creative or interesting enough to capture a packed audience which again begs the question as to whether there is an interest to improve? These performers are all so talented and the show is culturally rich,  but it is not improving to attract the audience.

At this juncture I will reserve my comments on the other popular private stakeholder Fetes, and Events ( Soca Monarch , Soca Chutney Monarch  and the Socadrome)  – All in the business of carnival. However, I will expatiate specifically on Machel Monday Concert, the impetus for this article.

Machel Montano,  one of the most talented soca artiste has been able to produce an annual sold out concert for a few years.  I have been to every concert and have seen the strides he has made , obviously learning from international relationships in the music industry.  His contribution is significant as he has had the foresight to embrace veterans in the business and future artistes making his show vibrant and interesting. His concert has even spurred on other artistes to host their own concert during the week of Carnival- a viable commercial activity.

Interestingly, it seems that Machel Montano is stepping  more and more into the realm of becoming a “talent maker” maintaining our art-form , something that the “Tents” and public authorities should have been doing a long time ago. His trajectory in his professional production and his consciousness to present musical perfection is certainly delivered to a wide cross section at his concert. In my perspective , his concert is an export product, for the region and internationally. 

Carnival is our Showtime, if Machel Montano can do it and bring his event to a level of perfection in such a short time , then every activity that is offered that reflects our culture should be produced to perfection to attract various market segments throughout the season- we have all the ingredients to make it right !

Carnival is a business when one consider all the activities which contributes a substantial foreign revenue to the destination. Almost all regional destinations today have adopted our Carnival , using our home grown expertise to develop it as a destination offering. If the authorities work effectively on balancing the scale of bacchanal and business then Carnival in Trinidad will remain the flagship event of the Caribbean.

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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Did 2017 budget consider the new tourism thrust?

With the new board for Tourism Trinidad Destination Management Company (Trinidad Tourism Limited)  regaled in position after the first week of  budget 2017 presentation should conjure in our minds, a confident act by government toward a tourism diversification mandate. Intrigued by this motion, I questioned the financial and strategic measures of Budget 2017 that should meet the sector’s 2020 target.

The Minister of Finance in his speech introduced two destination companies: Tobago Tourism Agency (TTA) and TTDMC/TTL; which replaced the Tourism Development Company (TDC) . Incidentally, and not to confuse myself , I think we all need clarification which is the registered name for the company for Trinidad, thus, for the purpose of this article I would continue using both acronyms.

The reality is both TTA and TTDMC/TTL must ensure primary functions are committed to drive all elements of destination development in marketing, attractions, amenities, infrastructure, safety , to name a few. For those who may not know, this is no different from the previous mandate that was given to the TDC.

Now, with this separation of bodies, two years of standing committees and numerous consultants one should expect  funding  projected for at least five years with targets to be met for the re-positioning of Trinidad Destination and Tobago Destination. We should also expect to hear that some funding was put into place to take advantage of any impending opportunities that may arise. If this was done it would mean that finally we are at that level of thinking of a way forward in “Changing the Paradigm”.

Commendation must be made to The Minister of Finance for improving the incentive programme for the accommodation sector to retrofit inventory. It is expected that this fiscal support measure for improved Hotel and Guest Room Stock Upgrade Programme will take effect by December 1, 2017. However, industry stakeholders are mindful that these proclamations are sometimes without efficacy from poor implementation.

With an increased cost of living and taxation would a financial outlay with such an incentive be a gamble for a stakeholder especially as arrivals have been abnormally low? This brings me to the basic point on the law of supply and demand defined as ” the effect the availability of a particular product and the desire (or demand) for that product has on price“. Then the question is ,what is the government’s tactical approach that would be used to entice travelers to our shores; especially in times of our internal domestic issues (customer satisfaction, services, security, attractions, etc) ,and of uncertain global economy, regional competition , terrorism?

Based on the Tourism Road Map provided by the Government the intent is to continue the marketing trend of Trinidad, as a business destination. They proposed to focus on Business/MICE Tourism amid weaker corporate budgets. The plan also identified, “supporting niches identified included Festival Tourism, Sport Tourism and Ecotourism”.

The reason for continuing with this proposition has been taken from international data which proves that MICE markets draw many travelers and in turn higher tourism receipts for a destination. Therefore, from this proposition one should expect the Minister of Finance to discuss plans to build  infrastructure, such as a Convention Complex to facilitate this prioritized segment of market.  Obviously, it would be expected that TTDMC/TTL would put forward a substantial budget campaign to champion MICE for destination Trinidad. It behooves me whether anyone presented a  budget expenditure on marketing for stimulation of less than 400 registered attendees per convention. Can the Government attract high quality convention events that can promote trade and investor interests with such limitations?

As for attractions, the Minister indicated that Maracas Bay facility would be finished for 2018, hopefully as a comprehensive final product (Waste water and Water management , Improved water quality at the beaches, Improved food courts with sensible advertising, foot and cycle paths, playgrounds, established camp site area, parking, and facilities).

Now let’s review the tourism road map for Tobago which is focused on leisure, the same product marketing regimen as always, however the Minister of Finance cited Sandals as a key stakeholder to get Tobago leisure market back on the map. In the latest twist of negotiations , the government in a spurious act declared that an MOU has been signed to become the stakeholder inventory owner using the management and marketing brand of Sandals, moving away from the initial investor led relationship.  The minister implied that Sandals will be a success by using Hyatt’s model in Trinidad, without speaking on projections.  At this stage, I am perplexed with this notion, as Hyatt market is for a totally different source market. Why would government change from investor relationship to becoming the investor at a time when the funds from the treasury can be used to develop the island to entice more investors? Are we still at the level of a plantation mentality?

If the government is new investor, why build on no man’s land on the Golden Groove Estate? Have the minister lost sight that it is the government that owns Magdalena Grand, which was formerly a Hilton managed property, which at one stage sat as a white elephant? Why not hand over this property to Sandals?

It is also unfortunate that both locations at Lowlands and Golden Groove have a much needed  eco-system vital to protecting the island, areas where Government need to spend money. Where are the priorities of developing places of significance as a revenue earner where tourists can visit? The mystery and nostalgia of no man’s land is an actual revenue earner in itself, so why not consider making the mangroves healthy again to provide tours to these areas? All these can add to the distilled beauty of Tobago which is unique in its own right.

In my perspective the debate 2017 did not consider the proposed five year plan, nor did they put much thought in changing the paradigm for tourism. Let me share some of my suggestions:

  1. Reconsider the proposition for Trinidad with the focus of Culture/Events Tourism which ties in to our music and musical instrument (developing the pan instrument, pan yards) ; Developing skills in mas-making for our number one event product,  Supporting our diversity in culture and religious events; become the Caribbean fashion center. MICE markets can be extracted from this involvement and it would carve us with a definite Brand.  The supporting niche would be MICE, SPORT, ECO & AGRO TOURISM,CRUISE. It is an alternative to attract big spending tourists families with young children, working millennials, and active older travelers who are interested in new markets , new experiences;
  2. Improving talent through scholarships or negotiate for local tourism professionals to hold positions as assistant managers at government owned brand managed properties as the Minister is concerned so much with FOREX .Why is Magdalena Grand managed under an International Hospitality Company, under INVESTT while our national tourism professionals are being sidelined?
  3. Consider a convention centre for MICE markets and defer the sporting complex in Diego Martin. At present , the sporting complex need to be utilized effectively.
  4. Revisit Tobago proposition by introducing Eco. Consider building investor relationships for the tourism sector, where clusters can developed on the island. Perhaps the government can engage in our local pool of  businessmen who may want to invest in building a property and buying into a brand. Consider perhaps a hotel model which has a strong connection with Tobago cocoa, a great combination to recognize agro-tourism. Reinvest in building and  road management to involve cycling tracks and bicycle rentals and other eco interests as a way to drive revenue and entrepreneurship.

Frankly, I want to see the portrayal of a truthful reality toward strengthening the tourism sector, building people and country first.

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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Golden Seal of Approval

Recently I took a road trip around the islands of T&T where I noticed several properties prominently displaying “Hotels” and “Guesthouses”; but not a single property is registered with Tourism Development Company (TDC). Some properties flouting basic building codes and regulations; encroaching sidewalks,  adjacent to other buildings with waste water running freely into rivers and streams. We also visited  some of our popular beaches and rivers – a less than desirous state of affairs. Even at the lookout at Lady Young  there are food stalls without basic facilities begging the question of standards.

Which prompted me to ask – Which government agency is/was  responsible for our present state of compliance? Is it our culture at government agencies to disregard regulations? This brings me to the topic of regulations and standards that would make T&T compliant internationally and regionally.

The fact is , TTTIC (Trinidad and Tobago Tourism Industry Certification Programme)  was developed in 2001, derived out of the Tourism Master Plan,1995. This certification program was an MOU agreement valued over $3 Million as the basic project contribution, renewable annually thereafter,  between the Bureau of Standard (BOS) and TDC. The agreement was developed exclusively for operators in Trinidad which meant that Tobago and all International Branded Properties were excluded. The aim of the BOS was to implement a Tourism Certification System in Trinidad; and to certify Tourism Products in accordance with the Standards Act 1997.

One of the undertakings by the BOS was to develop, implement and administer TTTIC by which TDC provided impartial advice to the tourism operators and should be able to support any resolution of audit non-conformities. TDC also conducted joint public awareness campaigns, workshops and seminars in a partnership type relationship with the BOS. The nexus of this relationship  was to ensure that BOS was commissioned tostandardize the tourism product and to provide certification that will indicate quality products and services”

In effect quasi regulatory body as per national policy guidelines for operators registered in Trinidad under Tourism Development Company. Like most accreditation bodies, it is proprietary in nature and without fiscal injection it would in effect void itself – $3 Million plus annual costs flushed out the system that benefitted no one.

Nevertheless, TTTIC became de facto body of standards that placed significant pressure on operators (Hoteliers) in Trinidad to comply, noncompliance meant that they would be removed from incentive programs, marketing ,and business opportunities from governmental agencies. Fast forward to 2017, the Government now claims that TTTIC was “voluntary” blindly opening a doorway to a slew of legal action that can be taken against them by the association members for subverting the course of opportunities and incentives.

Some may argue that TDC’s powers were over quality assurance standards by facilitating inspections and licensing of tourism facilities . Indeed, this “power” fell under the Regulatory Framework aligned to the National Policy for Trinidad and Tobago. However, as the facts has shown, the proposition was skewed at the onset, which leads me to ineffective leadership and governance under TDC.

Now let’s address the recent decision to move from a Regulatory Framework that has cost taxpayers yet again,  to a new organisation,Trinidad & Tobago Regulatory and Licensing Authority (TTR&LA). I can only assume that the issues that arose with the regulatory framework were reviewed and this was the most feasible and cost effective approach to improve the amalgam of tourism products and services for both Trinidad and Tobago. Obviously some of the issues before overlapped with governmental agencies, such as Town and Country Approvals, Statutory Approvals, Environmental Authority, Local Government corporation , Finance and other related bodies.

According to Wikipedia,  a Public Regulatory Authority “is an executive branch of government , responsible for exercising autonomous authority over some area of human activity in a regulatory or supervisory capacity“. A licensing authority “has the right to grant, suspend or revoke licensure or certification privileges“.

The message invoked here is that accreditation will become de rigueur with enforcement as prescribed by the laws of T&T, somehow managed by an organisation that is owned by the government. So besides improved properties (inland and coastal), the public should expect world class sites and attractions with facilities, aesthetic surroundings, improved transportation and service companies, higher concentration on environmental management which will in turn ignite possible investor relationships,not to mention a higher yield of tourism receipts.

What should stakeholders expect from the golden seal of approval – Perhaps higher ratings to attract tourist; More programs in Marketing and Promotion campaigns; Better Leveraging for business opportunities, Reduction of complaints; Higher Revenue; Lower costs for liability coverage; Lower loan rates; and other incentives.

Presently there is a Request for Proposal (RFP) online which reads, “The Government of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago is undertaking an exercise to regulate and modernize the tourism sector towards developing same as one of the main catalysts in diversification of the national economy“. Already a misdirected communique which makes me wonder whether anyone in authority truly apply critical thinking to determine what is best for the the sector in T&T?[http://tourism.gov.tt/Portals/0/Documents/RFP%20Documents/RFP_RegAuthority_2017.pdf].

The RFP leaves much to be desired and clearly sends warning signs yet again to the very small and already pained tourist affiliated hive. At this point I cannot fathom how a regulatory and licensing authority is expected to modernize the tourism sector and inter alia. Furthermore by analysing this RFP, I have a plethora of questions as it relates to the public purse and the expected guarantee of value to us , the people of our beloved land.

As I applaud the Honourable Minister Shamfa Cudjoe on taking this bold step of implementing Regulations and Licence , I would suggest that the approach should be holistic rather than pigeon-holed. It may have been better to have R&L as a division under a product development authority. In other words a division for licence and regulations for Attractions, Craft Traders,Transportation Operators, Tour Operators, Rental Companies (Water Sport Rentals, Bikes, etc); and for various categories of Accommodation Operators. Other sub divisions to monitor services in quality enhancements, training and community tourism development , environmental improvements, etcetera.   It’s a tighter approach which would be under one umbrella with the sole purpose of managing the product development of the islands.


Author: Lisa Shandilya, MBA.(Specialized), CEM., B.Sc., A Tourism Consultant with 20 years as a practitioner in the Hospitality and Service Sector, Member of THRTA, International Hospitality and Service Industry .
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Why dissolve TDC?

Tourism is at the front burner again when Honorable Minister Shamfa Cudjoe announced the dissolution of TDC (Tourism Development Company) at a recent post cabinet meeting. The minister indicated that two authorities would be developed;  “one will focus on Trinidad while the other will focus on Tobago” and if no one else was paying attention, a third authority is to be developed . This third entity as the Minister stated would be  “a regulatory authority which will set basic standards for all tourism operators” , a topic to be discussed in another article.

Sadly, what appears to be disreputable is the appointment of an Interim CEO , TDC on 8th March,2017 and then a notice of dissolution of TDC on the 9th March 2017. According to a news report, The Honorable Prime Minister Dr. Keith Rowley has affirmed his decision together with his cabinet on the ideologue of the two authorities, in a bid to improve tourism. A decision made without consultation with the Communications Union Workers , contracted employees and sector stakeholders. Within the past few weeks the public and stakeholders have ventilated concerns without being informed of the timeline, the vision or measures that the Government will take.

Let me digress a little on the facts of our existing established tourism organisation :

  1. Tourism and Industrial Development Company (TIDCO) was split into two entities; one with a focus on Tourism and another on Investor Development (see articles on  TIDCO ). The reasons for this separation seemed similar to Hon. Minister Cudjoe’s response on TDC. In May 2005, a special purpose company was formed as the implementation plan to the national policies. The Tourism Development Company (TDC) sole purpose is to develop and market the tourism product of Trinidad and Tobago;
  2. Tourism Development Act 2000 was developed which governs the policies for the industry in other words, The  Tourism Act is the foundation of legislation to facilitate Tourism Development for Trinidad and Tobago
  3. Draft plan of National Tourism Policy of Trinidad and Tobago commenced in 2003 and completed in 2007; Cabinet approved 2010. This present national working policy framework was derived from various developmental and economic plans that existed between 1995 to 2008.
  4. The THA Act No. 40 of 1996 incorporated a Division of Tourism as the main arm responsible for the destination marketing of Tobago;

These four(4) official documents were drafted for TDC, THA and The Ministry of Tourism to function and operate in congruence with one another. The crux of the matter is that the national policy was approved 5 years after TDC was formed with “old guards” transferred into the new system. Naturally, the system of governance forged within the organisation became the status quo as no one monitored performance of the organisation. Then there is the inherent power struggle with marketing campaigns and budgetary appropriations between TDC and the THA , a telltale sign of disunity.  This breakdown is further compounded with poor leadership, bureaucracy , nepotism , complexities of superiority, and the list can go on and on.

It is inconceivable that after 12 years with established legislation that TDC have failed one of the most fundamental exercises of branding the destination of Trinidad and Tobago. Not to mention that the branding exercise , drafted in policy and strategic plan/s of destination of T&T was irrationally transferred to InvesTT. At this point my guess is as good as yours when it comes the purpose of the existing legislation- an apparent written document to be comforted by. 

Based on facts above, I am of the perspective that there is need for reform of TDC and the Ministry of Tourism considering the dysfunctional structures of the non-existent TIDCO and the present functionality of TDC.

What is fundamentally critical to note is that tourism is always evolving with new concepts for investor development; new trends; environmental, social and economic changes; new accommodation concepts (ie. Pop ups) to name a few.

Now that the Government has also engaged in Tourism Authorities shouldn’t they also review the Act? What would be the changes made to the Ministry of Tourism? Would the policy be amended ? What is the master plan for the authorities? Does the Government have a plan to secure talent without “friends or family” involvement?  What would be the spend and would the budget be apportioned for the authorities? Which entity would be responsible for branding the image of the islands ? Would each entity use marketing and tactical campaigns of each island tourism products? What is the intention for branding the destination? What is the Government spend to dissolve TDC? What is the budget for creating three entities?

As I close I believe that the public and stakeholders need to understand the intention of the Government with these three new entities so that there are no misconceptions to the present and/ or future state of tourism.

Why dissolve TDC? Please note that the logo is a copy of that used for TDC site . Used (unofficially) for this article based on topic.

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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Unlocking the service sector workforce.

When anyone raises a topic about the service sector in Trinidad and Tobago be prepared for a grimacing conversation that sounds hopelessly abysmal about our workforce. I am almost certain some behavioural traits , such as: the watery “chupps”; the rolling of the eyes; the side to side head banter; the abrasive “yea” when you ask for assistance; the side look  with the undertone of sarcasm; or the frog pout; have been experienced from both the public and private sector.  Interestingly these antics many of which I have experienced are in my opinion homogenous across age groups, income brackets, gender, education and race.

For the tourism industry, service talent can be leveraged as a competitive advantage for a destination, however T&T is ranked low with respect to affinity to tourism by the Travel and Tourism Competitiveness  Index (TTCI). The reason as some tourism experts theorised has been based on the virtues of “Service vs Servitude”. Perhaps, this premise should have been followed up with intelligence gathering in terms of: salary satisfaction, productivity and skillsets which may have built the foundation in education and organisational transformational programs for an improved workforce pipeline.

Having said that, a research study 2016 conducted in the UK analysed service sector challenges in relation to generation gaps.  The study noted that Generation X workforce in the service sector considers health / medical benefits, pension plans, good office relationships and permanent positions ; whilst Generation Y are aligned to financial incentive, salary , title/position, brand name as important for their security. The research also identified areas of weaknesses of Generation Y as demanding, pampered, lack motivation and poor work-place attitude.

It was not surprising that this research analysis seemed similar to complaints shared by the Trinidad business community at the Chamber of Commerce event on “The impact of Industrial court judgements on your business” [2016, December 16].

The hospitality and service sector is a highly labour intensive industry which business owners rely on effective communication between employees and guests. A great example of how staff sometimes communicate your product can be viewed in an online video, “Sephora employees vs Mac employees”. For the purpose of this article I would focus on small to medium (SME’s) independent properties, tour operators , restaurateurs, transportation companies , etcetera

Within the T&T network of SME’s, complaints range from: high staff turnover, low productivity, attitude issues, lack of loyalty, theft, wastage to name a few. Likewise, as an SME myself, I have had to endure issues of late coming, high absenteeism, sabotage, disrespect, delusional entitlement and the list can go on and on. Even the best talent can become emotionally distressed by the laissez faire attitude of their colleagues.

In recent times, SME’s are becoming desperate to improve productivity choosing to hire under the radar migrant workers from Jamaica, Venezuela, Guyana, Philippines, Cuba, India, Ghana, China to name a few.  This grey area in the service sector business is quickly infiltrating into our system which will eventually have an impact on our tax systems, cultural integration issues, authenticity of “localness” to the destination product , etcetera. Moreover, a new concern is – What will happen to the talent pool if the migrant worker’s adopt poor work place mentality? 

So the real challenge for SME’s is to take responsibility in unlocking the local talent in the workplace to improve workplace imbalances. Here are a few of my tips for 2017:

# 1. Know your Brand

Give yourself a 5 second spiel about your product then ask your employees to share their view of your product. By engaging employees with ideas and thoughts for improving the brand would also ensure that they understand your personal beliefs for a better tourism product identity. Keep at it by strengthening their intelligence in the business as it is also your employees’ story to share with the customer.

# 2. Share within your network.

Always keep track of the performance of your employees during tenure. At the end of tenure establish an Exit Interview – perhaps too late for the employee to reconsider! Exit interviews would give employers an appreciation of how the employee viewed your establishment and for them to acknowledge their contribution to the organisation. Your responsibility as an SME is to share employee’s profile within your network if there is a referral request on skill sets and abilities. Perhaps exchanging ideas on management tips, strategies, collaborative solutions in building talent pool should be addressed by your organisation.

#3. Consider a few HR best practices

SME’s are known to have poor HR management practices and this could be a reason why so many SME’s are struggling to find employees to suit their organisation. Many SME’s offer psychological contracts with employees opting to have close working relationships rather than formalities.  Review your selection policy, training practices and how you would measure performance to ensure your new recruit will fit into your culture. An employee with hidden agendas would soon stick out as a sore thumb and their actions would be evident. According to Poole, ” Hiring inappropriate employee in hotel can alter the services at very rapid pace, since in hotels direct customer interaction is being conducted, hence affecting the image of the entire organisation.

#4. Work with your local tertiary institutions

Many in the industry assume the worse with SME’s in terms of working conditions, wages, working hours, promotional opportunities and job security. By building a relationship with training institutions; such as TTHTI , Servol, UWI would help in strengthening the tourism talent. Engage the institution to understand your product and your training program so that students have clear expectations. One of the greatest opportunities for students through internship is to get a practical sense in the real world of work and whether they too can fit into the work life of the industry.

#5. Initiate training

At my last debrief with my core staff team I shared with them “communication” misnomers, suggesting that they must take responsibility with all recruits. Training is a huge investment cost for SME’s as it consumes resources in finance, time and administrative efforts. It should be noted that training does not buy loyalty to your company, rather, it supports your product. A great opportunity for most employees in small establishments is the ability to work directly with the owners themselves or with their core management team. This tremendous knowledge that is imparted is invaluable to an employee learning curve, often not recognised as it is an intangible value which has no financial costs attached.  SME’s can also take advantage of free government training programs, enrol staff in small courses as a staff bonus incentive and re-tool staff internally by creating your own training sessions.

In my perspective,  enjoy what you do, be happy in your space and ensure that everyday it is a livable and lively workplace environment.

Unlocking the service sector workforce.







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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Sandals – A vacation option for Tobago

Finally, the word is out and in the public domain that the government of T&T is in negotiations for a proposed 750-room Sandals Resort in Tobago. This development project is presently before cabinet after months of silence by government and officials within THA despite the skepticism raised by the local populace .

The Sandals project is expected to change the landscape of the tourism industry for the islands by increasing room stock inventory in Tobago, improve the quality product being offered, stimulate training, and increase airlift to the island. Granted the benefits are obvious but there are also questions that resonate: What is  the expected percentage of skilled workforce from the islands that is required to service the sector?   Can our local agriculture suppliers supply quality goods to the industry? Would community craftsmen and tradesmen provide timely, reliable and quality service ? Is the island prepared to manage carrying capacity concerns of our sensitive resources?  Would there be a labour law review for the sector to comply? What policy is in place for local investors wanting to do mega project developments on the island- would the same incentives apply? These questions allude to the fact that government must have a master plan for hotel and coastal development on the island with measurable research and development to evaluate the tourism receipts necessary to drive the economy.

Essentially, Tobago is no stranger to All Inclusive’s (AI) as this destination has been predominantly sold by travel agents selling  pre paid packages to European and British source markets.Studies have shown that the AI concept was novel in the late nineties offering travelers a pricing model which encouraged mass tourism to the destination. This concept has grown into trending resorts, that is : Golf , Spa and Health , Family or for Couples. The irony is AI resorts offer major incentives for guests to stay within the safe and protected confines of the property which disconnects the guest to the destination.

Properties established as AI in Tobago are Grafton Beach, Coco Reef, The Grand Courlan, Blue Haven , Rex Turtle, Magdalena Grand, to name a few . The difference with these properties is that they are much smaller in comparison to the larger AI’s, such as Sandals in this case,  thereby giving the visitor the ability to enjoy the destination as well.

Basically, Sandals Resort present to Tobago, a hotel-brand product differentiation, which capitalizes on the core natural resources of the destination to maintain an attractive and promising position for its marketability.Of course, Sandals can be promising for Tobago as it belongs to the top 5 major All Inclusive (AI) chains worldwide  and  known as the most romantic property in the Caribbean region. The exquisite layout design, high quality and price , top customer service offering at least five international restaurants, entertainment and activities would supersede what is presently available on both islands.

Naturally, it would be expected that existing service and hotel operators become more competitive to maintain marketshare; and that government spend to improve sites and attractions, airport services , incentive plans and environmental policies- a  conversation for many years!

This is where I  concur with the article by Kathleen Pinder ,“What’s best for Tobago tourism?” and beseech the Government to consider neighboring islands Antigua ,Barbuda, Grenada, St Lucia, Bahamas to understand negotiations with AI investors in accordance to the alignment to  the tourism master plan , notwithstanding the policy framework for the island of Tobago. Furthermore, there is also a concern about the  benefits from AI resorts to these destinations, as most times monies are leaked through ownership rights , goods, and services.

So it would be necessary to present a framework plan first as all-inclusive’s is simply a small segment of destination competitiveness, which cannot be misconstrued for a destination marketing plan to emerge on the world stage.

Another concern was expressed from an online petition made against the Government is a rumor that Sandals AI Resort have been offered  a large environmental footprint of natural reserve, known fondly by locals, as No Man’s land-the soul of the island.

According to world indicators from international tourism forums, the top destinations that travelers are seeking offer authentic travel ,voluntarism and community integrity and cultural connectively. In other words, the uniqueness of destination Tobago is what the 21st century traveler is looking for- that little piece of paradise.

Tobago is in a position to differentiate from the rest of the Caribbean and therefore tourism advisors should encourage the push theory in responsible sustainable tourism planning in the tourism vision framework – focus on the mangrove rehabilitation programs at low lands and at No man’s land ; consider recycling programs , sewerage and water treatment; develop the authenticity of cultural heritage programs and local cuisine; add more foot paths and cycle paths ; improve craftsmen ;improve farming; improve services and sites;  reduce crime , noise and refuse.

Consider Maldives, a little island considered one of the top luxurious destinations in the world having maintained her environmental foot print and destination differentiation in the world. Maldives have taken into consideration the sensitivity of the environment in their framework: Integrating tourism sensitivity by engaging public /private meetings; Encouraged developers to compete to increase standards of accommodation and services; Provided legislation to control development of resorts through Environmental Impact Assessment; Negotiated with resort owners to Install Plastic Compressors,  Incinerators to manage waste and Sewerage Waste Management; Encouraged AI resorts to manage water supply without interference of water reserves; Ensured that land developers purchase local material and construct by visually blending with the environment; and Provided allocations of  20% for building, height restrictions, beach allocation of at least 20% for public use.

In my perspective, Sandals is great as a vacation option for Tobago as there exist a synergistic fit for Sandals romantic getaway resort with the sultry beauty of Tobago. But I will reemphasize  here that resorts are more successful when planned within the  tourism framework of the destination. So let’s be clear, another vacation option in Tobago is long overdue and it is expected that negotiators have a feasible projection for the islands financial, social and  environmental growth.

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 .
Follow WordPress: Revolutiondestination ; Gmail:revolutiondestination@gmail.com







Deadly trees on our shores.

Part of the tourism thrust of Trinidad and Tobago is to promote our beaches , bird watching and tours to Bocas Islands. In doing so information about the destination, things to do, and safety tips should be readily available.

Recently I conducted a survey in Tobago with visiting tourists at the Pigeon Point beach; locals ( fishermen , restaurant owners ) residing in Tobago; and a few vacationers resident to Trinidad. The survey conducted was about the Manchineel tree, whereby data collated has shown that eighty percent of the participants were unaware of the tree. Some of the locals who are familiar with the tree were plying their trade selling fish , craft or just simply relaxing ignoring the “Do Not Touch” sign posted on the trees. As one local said, the sign says “Do Not Touch” which was inferred as exactly that, therefore nothing is wrong being under the tree or hanging bags or apron on the branch of the tree.

The Manchineel,is part of our indigenous fauna along the sea coast of Tobago and the Bocas Islands protecting the island from coastal erosion, and in some cases acts as a wind break against hurricanes. This is nature and relevant to the environment however, this innocuous tree is also known as the “little apple of death”, and should not be taken for granted.

The name of the tree, Manchineel,  was given by the Spaniards, as early as 1521, when conquistador Juan Jose Ponce de Leon was wounded and eventually died from the poisonous sap-tipped arrows during the battle against the native islanders.  In 1943 ,Diego Alvarez Chanca, a spanish doctor wrote in his journal “There were wild fruits of various kinds, some of which our men, not very prudently, tasted; and on only touching them with their tongues, their mouths and cheeks became swollen, and they suffered such a great heat and pain”.

It was indeed interesting to read the British Medical Journal published on August 12,2000 about a tourist who shared her experience biting the manchineel apple during her vacation in Tobago in 1999. And yet another reported case by Maria Boodoo, published in Trinidad Express, July 13,2012 while she was on vacation with her family in Tobago. What was even more surprising whilst doing my research, is that ,the Manchineel is also in the Guinness Record as the world’s most dangerous tree.

The Manchineel contains a complex ester of potent toxins which relates to every aspect of the tree , that is : the trunk, the fruit, the leaves, the branches , the spores and the sap. It is so dangerous that the run off from the leaves if it is raining or burning of the leaves of the tree can cause severe health risks.

Mild exposure from  various parts of the tree can cause dermatitis, ophthalmitis, ulceration ,gastrointestinal issues,  blistering of the skin , severe pain and swelling. I suspect that symptoms of this toxidrome  has never been researched since there seems to be no reported cases or no recorded data from our islands.

So let me share my story of what happened during my visit to Tobago in 2016. My partner, unknowing to him, held a branch of the manchineel to get over a sand bank on the beach. After 15 minutes of exposure to the tree, his eyes started to burn,  automatically he rubbed his eyes to clear his vision. My partner soon became overwhelmed with pain, his eyes were bloodshot and face was swollen.We quickly rushed him to Scarborough Hospital for immediate attention, which suffice to say the nurse washed his eyes with saline solution, then used a pain relief for his eyes and injected him with an allergy cocktail. The pain returned in 15 minutes and the nurse together with the doctor on duty tried to once again repeat the process to relieve the burning sensation he was experiencing. After about three hours, they provided us with free medication to reduce the pain and indicated to him that it would soon pass. But the pain was intensifying ,nothing seemed to be working and of course fear of losing eye sight was slowly becoming a reality. One of our friends, on hearing the issue , quickly got us on a flight to Trinidad to seek immediate attention from our eye specialist, Dr. George Hanomansingh. Within a few hours we were at the Doctor’s office ,where he immediately commenced his examination and procedure to remove the chemical toxins. The chemical had almost sixty percent coverage , which started to progressively burn the layer of both corneas. He was treated and carefully monitored for five days.

After this experience my concerns have been more so on  whether there is statistical data on health risks to the local traders under the tree; health risks to persons who purchase and consume fish from under these trees; if persons who have sheltered under the trees have had skin lesions; or if anyone has actually died from the toxins ? What about the effects this toxic chemical can have on children , an elderly person or persons with serious health issues?

During my interviews, the immediate reaction by most partcipants after finding out the dangers suggested that the trees be removed. However, in my perspective the tree is a natural balance for the environment and with more research perhaps medical healing benefits can be explored.

In terms of our destination marketing , I would strongly recommend pictures of the tree and its dangers be posted at the ports of entry to the island of Tobago and also in Chaguaramas, Trinidad ; safety tips in travel guides; advisories by the authorities to keep local operators informed; the relocation of vendors under these trees along the swallows at Pigeon Point; provision of on-call medical specialists to treat with severe cases at our public health institutions; a solution for seats to be made available on Caribbean Airlines for medical emergencies , only if specialized care cannot be provided at the Scarborough Hospital; and lastly more visible markers on the trees to distinguish them to any unsuspecting visitor who want to enjoy the coastline.


Vendors under Manchineel Tree, Pigeon Point, Tobago









Sink or Float ?



This era can be characterized by a series of economic challenges which started with United States economic crisis in 2007 , quickly followed by the global economic crisis in 2009. Other countries such as Greece, Portugal , Spain , Ireland to name a few, also suffered from the repercussion of ballooning government debts.

By August 2014, amid the fragility of slow economic recovery for the United States and Britain , OPEC began major talks forecasting uncertain times for economies hinged on “black gold”. Venezuela, T&T’s  neighboring oil producing country,having been in political crisis for some time, is now faced with the added pressure of the plunging price of oil , worsening the country’s fragile economic situation.

Russia, on the other hand,  an emerging national economy , a major player of BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India and China), when oil was trading at $100 a barrel, had to declare the country’s recession by mid year 2015. Russia had the pressure of western sanctions but the slump in the price of oil quickly changed their financial standing. As a result the central bank of Russia halted FOREX as a means to moderately draw from its reserves and to maintain a facility to finance future federal budgets. Even the economy of Brazil has been downgraded by the ratings agency and  projected 3% contraction by year end 2015.

As a mere observer of the world economic situation during these tumultuous times of volatile stock markets, combined with the crisis of world strife, natural disasters and impending political threats, it should be obvious, that Trinidad and Tobago is not impervious to these circumstances.

Research has shown that there are three elements which constitute a crisis: a trigger to cause a change; the inability to cope with the change; and the threat to the existence of organisations.

The trigger of the slump in the price of oil is controlled externally by world market forces which has impacted on the financial stability for the islands.  Therefore, it is somewhat difficult to comprehend why our leaders wish to debate the terminology of whether T&T is in a Downturn or Recession. The issue that is before us, is that the Government needs to be proactive to maintain positive financial indicators, attractive for foreign investments. Ultimately , public outbursts against financial governance of our country  would only compromise our nations international reputation.

My focus with this article is to look at whether the tourism sector can weather the storm. The fact is, threats from external forces would be the cause for a recession and it would impact on the US currency and taxation; whilst internal forces would impact inflationary costs, resources, and profitability . With both internal and external forces being negative then the outcome of how our leaders and our association cope with these threats would determine the perception of our tourism sector. It is expected that with the shrinking of capital markets and decreased government and corporate spend, that the tourism sector would be the first to feel the pinch.

Greece, for instance, has shown that the impact of the recession has affected lodging, food service, events, activities and hospitality products. Many resorts were faced with foreclosure, whilst others provided limited services. Government spend on health and sanitary services also shrunk, leading to limited medical services and poor standards for the industry. Crime , unemployment and other social issues also impacted negatively in the industry forging a low tourist perception of the destination. Thus, the issue of convincing a consumer to travel to a destination to consume products and services in this climate would be a difficult. Therefore innovative strategies, such as using comparative advantages and other business measures are needed to adjust to these adverse business times.  Interestingly, one of my colleagues, the Vice President of Russia’s largest leading restaurant company concurred, by being resolute in taking action to steady his business.

With respect to the sector of  T&T , after the state of emergency in 2011, many operators knee jerk response were to lower prices for market positioning.  With the continued shock to the sector and the flat line approach to effective destination management, combined with unsustainable plans,  many operators have been unable to rebound to regain levels of occupancy and prices.

I suspect that with the contraction to the economy, stakeholders would have to revisit people management, revenue strategies, innovative business model restructuring; whilst government should consider niche product lines, incentivized programs, re visit  green policies and conservation priorities, review taxation to name a few.

These solutions , in my perspective, with the collaboration of stakeholders and government, can positively transform a declining industry to become resilient in the impending perfect storm.