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:
- 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;
- 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?
- 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.
- 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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