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.

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

The quagmire of CDA proposed plans.

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

The quagmire of CDA proposed plans.

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

Weighing in on Online Tax Levy

unfair Screenshot 2016-05-15 20.29.51The recent mid year 2016 budget review by the Minister of Finance indicated that by September 2016, all nationals of Trinidad and Tobago (T&T),purchasing goods and services via online transactions with retail companies overseas, will be subjected to a 7% online tax levy. The Hon. Minister Colm Imbert, suggested that the tax levy is necessary to reduce the foreign exchange leakage; and should assist local companies with improving their competitive advantage.

As noble as this sounds , how would this tax levy be applied?  The Minister of Finance in his contribution stated that New Zealand has an online tax levy in place –  a possible model for T&T.

Let me digress a little to give clarity on the terminology used in the budget review statement so that one can relate to my perspectives later in this article. According to http://businessdictionary.com, “The most basic products of an economic system that consist of tangible consumable items and tasks performed by individuals. Many business portfolios consist of a mix of goods and services that they offer to potential consumers via a sales force”,   a common definition for Goods and Services. A retail company is defined as “businesses or persons that sells goods to the consumer”.Finally, the definition for online shopping is “a form of electronic commerce (Business to Consumer) which allow consumers to directly buy goods and services from a retailer over the internet using a web browser”.

The online retail mix offered to an e-consumer as explained by researcher Neilsen, is also thought provoking, as consumers who purchase online want ease of shopping, convenience, price and range of product offerings.

Neilson suggests that the class of the product mix is much broader for e-consumers. There is a range of product mix of tangible goods such a:Clothing/Shoes/Accessories, Books/Magazines,Music CD/Videos/DVDs,Health and Beauty,Toys,Sports Equipment, Hardware and Garden Supplies,Food,Furniture and Housewares,Electrical and Electronic Items,Recreational Goods,Parts,Vehicles.

Many contributions have been written by analysts about the unfairness of the levy on tangible goods, as consumers would be taxed  custom duties, vat,and now a 7% levy on the total tax on the purchase price.

Outside of the physical goods there are also services that is offered to the e-consumer related to: Airline Tickets,Travel Related Services (Taxis, Hotels,Restaurants,Tours),Entertainment (concerts, etc.),Education (online training),Online Support Services,International Consultancy Service Providers (Human Resource Management Teams, etc),Other.

As a practitioner in the tourism industry, we have established relationships with international suppliers for several items that we regularly purchase for the running of our operation. For example, executive room menus, electronic key cards and replacement parts, wall hair dryers and replacement parts, to name a few. These items mentioned are goods, that are tangible, which cannot be obtained in Trinidad. With the sophistication of technology in the world of commerce, we are now able to look at various products and brands via online stores before we make our purchase.

What about intangible purchases, otherwise known as “services”, as it relates to the statement made in the budget? The tourism industry, is service oriented and likewise we also purchase intangible services. For instance, CHTA ,CEDDAT and other caribbean linkages that are affiliated with the THRTA association provide e-training opportunities.  We also pay for electronic system support, software support, and the most common is payment for online sales commission to travel related services (Expedia, Booking,Regatta,Hospitality Supply). Therefore as an e-consumer, hoteliers are purchasing a product mix on goods and services,based on a wider range that are available internationally.

As the Government speaks to controlling foreign exchange leakage, then one must consider InvesTT, property management of government owned / public sector companies such as: Hilton, Hyatt, Magdalena, etc., and its accounting structure. These government investments are all managed by international management companies and international consultants, paid for by taxpayers.  These service companies, external to Trinidad have a foreign franchise fee and human resource management fee for services rendered. Branded properties, are also mandated by contract to comply with international operations whereby  goods are imported into T&T to reinforce brand.

Therefore, it is debatable on how the government intends to apply online tax levy on the tourism industry in an effort to prevent foreign exchange leakage or to improve competitiveness in the marketplace.

Like the banking sector, the tourism industry should seek clarification on how the tax levy will affect the tourism industries financial performance. AMCHAM, in a recent press release offered advise of a de minimis, which i would support for my personal spend as the figure presented was certainly conservative. However, the accommodation sector spend can be about USD $5000.00 for a mix of products and services and this is conservative for small service related operators. What about the other related travel businesses who would import special purpose vehicles over USD$30,000.00 from an online car company?

My view is that it is impossible to use New Zealand’s online tax model to fit T&T, as systems, economic structure, trade relations, availability of goods and services, importation duties, size of population and other variables are by far different. Ideally,  T&T should offer more trading of goods and services internationally to bring in significant foreign exchange, rather than taking this taxation approach, especially as customs and excise duties on goods has had several controversial issues.

Therefore, in my perspective the taxation online levy can have serious long term repercussions on the tourism industry if not thought out, to be properly administrated. Perhaps, an  immediate tax rebate on any online purchases made by an approved operator can be a consideration for the sector. Otherwise, it would be difficult to comprehend the competitive advantages for business operators in the tourism industry.

 

Author: Lisa Shandilya, MBA.(Specialized), CEM., B.Sc., 20 years Practitioner in the Hospitality and Service Sector, Member of THRTA,
Follow WordPress: Revolutiondestination ; Gmail:revolutiondestination@gmail.com

Survival tactics

recessionThe impending economic and social dilemma, not yet identified by our economists as a recession or depression, will have a severe impact for owners and operators in  the tourism industry, as there is already a glaring decline in inbound tourist arrivals, corporate retreats , meetings and incentives. The rhetoric  Everything will be fine, God is a Trini, or any other airy fairy retort, are not solutions for the sector.

Hotel owners and operators are accustomed to cycles of lows and highs, it is a pattern that the industry is familiar with, based on several factors affecting the destination. I sometimes use the expression that the industry can be compared to a  “ride on a roller coaster”, so many turns and twists , highs and lows; before you know it, another year is ahead and you have to get back on the ride to plan for future opportunities.

With the recent comatose state of the country, after the dreaded April 2016 budget review by The Honorable Minister Colm Imbert, for which my interpretation is that there is no guaranteed recovery period for the country, despite the minister’s reassurance of investment initiatives in a new hotel project at Invaders Bay, an all-inclusive project in Tobago, and the extension of the room upgrade program.

I  would not delve into each initiative or it’s expected viability, but i would stress that the industry will be challenged in this present climate with  various negative variables, the silo operation of the destination authorities and the fact that the Government is becoming the largest stakeholder in the tourism sector of foreign brands.

Would competition be fierce? – the answer is yes. Would the competition be fair? – the answer is no. Would independent owners (stakeholders/taxpayers), be offered the same marketing leverage as the branded properties from government? – who knows, the proof would be in the clarion call of  “supporting local”.

The industry is aware of the effects of a recession which is obviously discouraging, however,owners and operators in the sector must consider intelligent survival tactics. I would present a few of my suggestions which the industry should consider if they expect to sell inventory at the right price.

Firstly, it is expected that the initial reaction by owners and operators in the sector would be to slash prices across the board. We have experienced this before, after the state of emergency in 2011, however, this time the discussion on recession is predicated by panic and fear of low profitability and possible foreclosure. Instead of price gouging, operators and owners should consider rate-obscuring tactics for specific periods or through well designed packages; another would be to introduce other income streams into the operation. In this way, the operator maintains brand integrity and price fairness thereby being able to recover from short falls in revenue.

Cost cutting of operational hours or for renovation is another tactic based on the business cash flows. Some hotels already practice this strategy when there is low inbound arrivals to the islands; whilst others including myself reduce operational times.This approach becomes a practical move if operational expenses exceed profitability, however, this must be carefully monitored, and communicated without sacrificing quality of service. From my own experience,  i can affirm that your team compliment, must be aligned to the integrity of the business and they would go the extra mile to ensure they meet service demands.

A rule of thumb is “Cash is King”, and therefore, operators must ensure that monies are collected up-front from the customer, whether it is Public or Private enterprises. Another revenue stream that has been taken for granted is the rental of facilities , that is , conference or meeting spaces. This is real estate, every square foot including dressed tables, chairs and air conditioning has a cost. Once this is understood by all in the industry then this is another way to ensure that the property makes additional income. Obviously, if the cash flow is healthy then operators would be able to reinvest in small upgrades and maintain credit ratings.

It is also worthwhile or sometimes idealistic thinking for operators to start consolidating efforts to better negotiate with suppliers, for better pricing and to assist in cash flow shortfalls. This is a hopeful thought especially for mid/micro sized properties.

Managing your online travel agents (OTA’s) and your social media reviews is important for your business. OTA’s make a killing on commission, however, it is up to the operator to know how to plan rates and promotions, bearing in mind that the US dollar exchange is fluctuating.

Besides trip advisor, almost all  OTA’s have introduced a review button, where customers can lodge comments. This feature can have great responses and sometimes very distasteful ones. Studies have shown that  psychological behaviors of people using this communication rather than speaking directly to the manager is not yet understood. The bottom line is that these features on media channels are on the world wide web, therefore, responding to comments whether good or bad is critical.

Finally, from a macro perspective, industry operators are heavily reliant on the marketing efforts and incentives from authorities that govern the tourism sector. Therefore, I can only  hope that these players operate strategically  charting the course toward a sanguine expectation. After all, aren’t we all in this together!

 

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

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Vendors under Manchineel Tree, Pigeon Point, Tobago

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What does VAT have to do with tourism?

The reduction of Value Added Tax (VAT) from 15% to 12.5% which took effect February 1st 2016 in Trinidad and Tobago, was a political election promise to lower cost of living. However, it seems this fiscal measure came with unanticipated adjustments with revised zero rated items.

Very briefly, Value Added Tax (VAT) is a country’s fiscal policy which registered businesses charge on goods or services; and reclaim what they paid on business-related goods or services. In Trinidad and Tobago , we have a standard vat rate on goods and services; and a list of  zero rated commodities which meant that they were still VAT-taxable, but the rate of VAT charged to customers would be 0%.

This recent fiscal plan is a costly and time consuming exercise for any vat registered business operators.Operators in the tourism industry would have to re-adjust entries for purchasing ; revisit modules for food and beverage costing; update pricing on retail /accounting system; and reprint menus with the adjusted prices. This is just one aspect of how registered businesses deal with the change on vat . So what about the impact on the sector? Would the reduction on vat change the behavior of the consumer spend?

The impact of lowering tax for the tourism sector , which is already price sensitive, has its merits, as taxation changes could contribute to competitiveness and fairness. Ideally, the impact of cost savings by the reduction of vat and zero rated items , should allow operators to reinvest in plant and operation, generate employment and improve staff wages. Of course, this impact is achievable if the tax savings is sizable enough to realize change in the industry within 3 to 5 years.

Let me highlight a simple example, a Pizzeria , would purchase raw materials to prepare it’s  pizza; and offer bottled water (zero rated) for resale.  Assuming resale price of the pizza and bottled water are both sold at $10.00 each, then the customer pays $21.50, if vat of 15% was applied.  With the new change on fiscal policy at 12.5% , and the  revision the zero rated item, the customer is now paying $1.00 more, with the assumption that the selling price of the goods remains the same. Is this change working for the sector?

Interestingly,  within the past two weeks of February 2016, there has been a spike in the U.S currency by almost 11 cents on the dollar. What this suggests,is that the cost of imported goods would be sold at higher prices. From my very own experience,  Heinz mustard which was sold at  $38.00 up January 31st ,2016 is now sold at $48.00 by the same supplier. This alludes to the fact that the selling price , using the the initial example would be even higher, which the consumer will have no savings.

It is my perspective that the industry operators would be challenged to be competitive and maintain standards at the same time. Inevitably, cutting quantity and quality for the sake of selling at best price would not be a promising solution for operators. With the  U.S currency increase, and other factors combined, prices is expected to inflate suggesting that consumer spend may change, perhaps becoming budget conscious. On the flip side, business operators would be unable to absorb rising costs and therefore these increases would be passed on to the customer, that is, if the operator wish to maintain quality offering. From an economic perspective of supply and demand, if the customer cutback on spend then the establishments, for instance restaurants, may experience low or no turnovers. This will lead to negative growth in the economy as no monies would trickle downstream. So where does that leave the tourism industry?

Where the reduction of the vat was welcomed , the U.S currency increase will erode competitive advantage for many in the sector. I believe that the sector need to lobby government to stimulate the domestic economy and the destinations competitiveness by: 1.Reverting vat on technology to zero rated, as it is critical business tool for operators in the industry;2. Consider zero rating basic food items produced by local manufacturers; 3. Consider zero rating beverages manufactured by local producers; 4. Consider providing vat refunds for international tourists; and 5. Promote MICE, Cultural Exchange , Sport programs both large and small that can stimulate demand to both island destinations.

Author: Lisa Shandilya, MBA.(Specialized), CEM., B.Sc., 20 years Practitioner in the Hospitality and Service Sector, Member of THRTA, Speaker on International Hospitality and Service Industry Seminars.
Follow WordPress: Revolutiondestination ; Gmail:revolutiondestination@gmail.com

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Sink or Float ?

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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.

Identifying Brand T&T

What imagery is conjured in your mind if I were to ask for three words which describes the Caribbean?   Unknown to many, the Caribbean have been left with a legacy of Sun,Sea and Sand,( 3 S) which has been impregnated in our minds .  An automatic target market source for Caribbean destinations, enticing visitors to soak in the sun, the lily white sand, sipping cocktails by the beach , the wafting sounds of the sea and the steel pan.  Therefore the 3 S strategy which the Caribbean inherited should not be pushed aside as some may have suggested that  “we no longer should be identified as Sun, Sea and Sand”. Many top destinations in the Caribbean have continued to use the 3 S strategy and have smartly introduced distinguishable trends to continue to drive visitors to their destination.

Tobago, historically attracted  visitors to the island using the 3 S strategy as it has the beauty and natural attractions. A few trends have been pitched over time in Tobago but their promotion showed no sustained growth. Trinidad, on the other hand, is not known for coastal beauty as the other islands, but marketers have failed to promote her unique natural attractions. Trinidad’s primary campaign promoted two trends: Business and Carnival. Unfortunately, other tourism trends, such as sport or cultural events have been compartmentalized, thereby limiting any progress for a sustained projection for new markets to the island. Statistics will show that T&T collectively have not shown any major tourism growth over the years.

Industry leaders are aware that the tourism sector in T&T is heavily influenced by the political power, and whatever language that is spoken in politics, should be our reality. Furthermore , the politics within each tier of the industry is also integral to what direction has been taken, and therefore all stakeholders, standing committees, boards , industry gurus are accountable for the position held today. It is interesting to see the current intention to move tourism from the trunk to the driver’s seat with strategies that are seemingly irrelevant today.

Evidently , T&T being a unitary state has one political party formed as central government which can change every five years whilst Tobago, the smaller sister isle has a general assembly with political ties, funded by central government to manage the Tobago affairs. Indeed, at this level of a vertical relationship, rivalries will exist : trust, political bias , funding inequities and inferiority issues resulting from perceptions of the different status. According to research by Cameron & Lewis “Marketing small twin-island states: Prospects and Constraints”  some tourism experts interviewed in the paper identified three brands for T&T : Destination Trinidad , Destination Tobago and Destination T&T. What does this mean to the average national? What does this mean to the consultants , politicians, directors, boards?  The only resolve to this question – Perhaps Nothing!

What this suggests is that mixed messages has been communicated to the international market who would have a blurred perception of T&T  as a destination. Therefore, if the strategy of three brands for T&T is a layoutcacophony of messages, with consultants promoting a myriad of smart logos, acronyms for T&T (for instance the resurgence of Terrific & Tranquil ),  then by all means let us continue in the vein of a disconnected T&T Brand!
Granted, it is no easy task to create an image for a twin island state but fortunately many other destinations such as Hawaii,Canaries, Maldives, Malta, Azores, Seychelles, Bahamas and Abu Dhabi have a chain of populated islands with their share of challenges and successes.   According to studies, Bahamas brand strategy 2010, promoted pictorially its chain of islands , and then each island promoted independently offering grand resort accommodation, with the intent to entice the visitor to island hop. The success of Bahamas was short lived as marketers did not consider inter-island cannibalism competing for the same market , a disconnection of the destination Bahamas and a further disconnection of the culture of the people.  On the other hand, destination Abu Dhabi took a totally different approach, where they consolidated the chain of islands under one simple Abu Dhabi brand. They offered a mix of products, events, activities , infrastructure, on each island targeted various markets and successfully implemented an efficient Hub and Spoke model to encourage island hopping. The success of Abu Dhabi is sustainable and can only improve with the steady growth path upon the foundation laid. No doubt they have  challenges but the purpose here is to understand the image of the Abu Dhabi brand to the world.

I would also introduce very briefly, where it was also suggested that our image be represented as Trinidad , POS Brand; &  Tobago,Scarborough Brand. This concept of city branding is used by Jamaica and Mexico but suffice to say it cannot be a consideration for T&T unless our infrastructure and inbound traffic can accommodate mass consumption of products , services, inventory , etcetera  in the mix.

Indeed, it may be wishful thinking that the tourism policy under the provisions of central government can consider equitable and harmonious development of a consolidated identity for T&T.  It is my perspective that a clear identity must be forged by establishing a strong foundation of sustainable plans of a unique mix of products , cultural connectivity, infrastructural development, and trend development. T&T is already poised with many positive attributes in its favour!

In light of this, a consolidated image that is not complex is powerful, the perception and experience received that will match the image will be the strength of the brand, and a great way for T&T to start grabbing the attention on the world stage.

Author: Lisa Shandilya, MBA.(Specialized), CEM., B.Sc., 20 years Practitioner in the Hospitality and Service Sector, Member of THRTA, Speaker on International Hospitality and Service Industry Seminars.
Follow WordPress: Revolutiondestination ; Gmail:revolutiondestination@gmail.com