Finance Minister Colm Imbert admitted of being overjoyed by giving Tobago $20 million for its Tobago Heritage Festival, stating that if he could have allocated more money to the annual event, he would have.
The $20 million was a fraction of the monies to be distributed to Tobago’s tourism sector, as an additional $40 million will be given in the next fiscal year for a “rolling three-year tourism plan.”
Imbert was responding to Opposition MP Ramona Ramdial during yesterday’s Standing Finance Committee meeting into the Tobago House of Assembly in Parliament, as she questioned what benefits Tobagonians will generate after $20 million is spent on the annual festival.
Imbert gave a breakdown of how the $20 million will be distributed to six entities, with the largest chunk of $8 million being handed to the Tobago Heritage Festival, stating that these were all tourism focused activities.
He said tourism has been the greatest contributor to Tobago’s GDP.
“And therefore, I wholly endorse, and support, and believe that this expenditure is for the benefit of Tobago and Tobagonians and we are happy to provide this $20 million.”
In light of the decrease in tourism on the island in the last five years, Ramdial questioned if the money allocated was justified to attract tourists and if more needed to be done.
“Perhaps, we should spend some more. You may be right. I can’t say.”
Ramdial pointed out that while Government injects millions into these events, ticket sales rake in far less than what is expended, as she queried if the injections were justified.
“I am happy to give Tobago this $20 million for their Heritage Festivals. I am overjoyed to give them this $20 million. I think it is totally justified and if I could give them more, I would,” Imbert replied.
Opposition MP Tim Gopeesingh also queried why $40 million had to be spent on a three-year tourism plan.
“I see in 2018 $40 million was spent and in 2019 another $40 million is estimated,” Goppseingh said.
Imbert said the bulk of the $40 million, as has been the practice for many years, was to purchase airlifts.
“Of that $40 million, $21.1 million will be paid to Virgin Atlantic to provide airlifts and $16.9 million will be paid to British Airways to provide airlift.”
The remaining $2 million, Imbert said, will be spent in assisting a certified tour guide associations while Caribbean Airlines will be given $700,000.
He said the money would provide airlifts and encourage airlines to come to Tobago.
Gopeesingh enquired if the millions spent on the two airlines had achieved its objective, to which Imbert replied “yes”, stating that he was sure the airlifts have been reaping rewards in Tobago.
- by Shaliza Hassanali