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Tobago tourism tiff
Tobago House of Assembly Chief Secretary Orville London might not like to admit it, but newly appointed Minister of Tourism Stephen Cadiz is working hard to be, if not his best friend, at least his most valued partner in improving the moribund Tobago tourism sector. The Chief Secretary recently took issue with what must have been a misunderstanding or miscommunication that led to THA members not being effectively invited to the launch of the pivotal Tourism Development Fund.
Straight up, let’s acknowledge that if the THA wasn’t properly invited to this event, it was a gaffe and Mr Cadiz’ history shows that he’s a big enough man to apologise. He did so when he served as Trade Minister and Barbados’ Pine Hill dairy products were blocked from import, and the state of Tobago tourism is both closer to home and more dire than spilled Bajan milk.
With elections for office in the THA coming up in 2013, it isn’t hard to see why Mr London would want to draw clear lines in Tobago sand to clarify his party affiliations, but it’s hard to imagine that the Tourism Development Fund, coming when the island’s tourism economy is on the edge of functional bankruptcy, would encourage anything less than full bipartisan support led by the PNM majority in the assembly. Since taking up the tourism portfolio, Mr Cadiz has been vocal in his support of the issues in Tobago and clear in his advocacy of the need for decisive intervention.
In July, Mr Cadiz supported the assembly’s call for CAL to schedule more direct flights to Tobago from other ports in the region, clearly seeing the need to tie Tobago’s tourism asset more tightly in with those of Grenada, Barbados and Jamaica and the potential for creating a tourist network that might tap into the visitor assets of those islands.
This is a contentious issue, cutting right to the heart of the conflict between leveraging Caribbean Airlines as a development tool and letting the airline set its own priorities based on immediate profit. It’s safe to say that in supporting direct flights, Mr Cadiz put a challenge to his Cabinet colleagues to support Tobago more tangibly.
The tourism fund, which Mr Cadiz announced in June as part of his Trade portfolio at the time, targets with admirable accuracy the very specific needs of the tourism infrastructure on the island, and its focus on customer-directed results and real-world accountabilities is exactly what the island’s tourism business needs at this time. Far from a handout, the fund, vested with $50 million a year over five years, will be overseen by a newly created entity, the Tobago Tourism and Development Company, with loan guarantees administered by the Export Import Bank.
It’s a serious business investment in Tobago’s resources and potential that challenges its tourism stakeholders to rally and rethink their efforts at rebuilding the island’s economy. The Tourism Minister is also getting aggressive about promoting the country as a viable destination. Taking a long-term view of the visitor enhancement problem, Mr Cadiz has announced that this country will host two conferences for the Caribbean Tourism Organisation and the 11th Travel Professionals of Colour International Conference and Trade Show.
These events have the potential not only to position Trinidad and Tobago more effectively in markets it needs to nurture, but serve as an opportunity for tourism stakeholders to revisit their target markets and the development of local visitor assets that will attract new, more varied tourist profiles. Given these public commitments to Tobago’s welfare, Chief Secretary London would do well to cut Mr Cadiz some slack and work with him on improving Tobago’s economy.
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