Tobago anxious about PM’s plan to fix economy

Prime Min­is­ter Dr Kei­th Row­ley’s lat­est state­ments on his Gov­ern­ment’s steps to mend To­ba­go’s econ­o­my are caus­ing anx­i­ety among many stake­hold­ers on the is­land. How­ev­er, while they re­joiced at some of Gov­ern­ment’s plans yes­ter­day, they said the ma­jor­i­ty of the mea­sures do not ad­dress the sit­u­a­tion in the short term.

Over the last cou­ple of years, the is­land’s econ­o­my has faced chal­lenges, with the seabridge woes deep­en­ing the prob­lems.

In an in­ter­view on a wide range of top­ics with host Hema Ramkissoon on CNC3’s Morn­ing Brew yes­ter­day, Row­ley said To­ba­go’s econ­o­my is “plod­ding along...and the Gov­ern­ment is tak­ing steps to fix it.”

Ad­dress­ing the is­sues, he said the Gov­ern­ment is tak­ing steps to “gen­er­ate greater eco­nom­ic ac­tiv­i­ty” on the is­land by build­ing in­fra­struc­ture, im­prov­ing hu­man cap­i­tal and en­cour­ag­ing in­vest­ment in all sec­tors.

In an ob­vi­ous ref­er­ence to the failed San­dals Re­sorts deal and the need to at­tract more tourism to the is­land, Row­ley said: “Un­for­tu­nate­ly, one of the ac­tions we thought would have giv­en as­sis­tance as a stim­u­lant is no longer avail­able to us.”

Ad­dress­ing tourism-re­lat­ed is­sues fur­ther, he said Evolv­ing Tech­nolo­gies and En­ter­pris­es De­vel­op­ment Com­pa­ny Lim­it­ed (e Teck) is seek­ing to find a com­pa­ny to mar­ket the Mag­dale­na Grand Beach and Golf Re­sort “which is a mon­ey-los­ing ho­tel.”

“The Gov­ern­ment was ap­proached by a new com­pa­ny, the Sun­wing Com­pa­ny, which has its own air­lift and the THA (To­ba­go House of As­sem­bly) is out en­cour­ag­ing (busi­ness­es to in­vest),” the PM said.

How­ev­er, not­ing plans to ex­pand the ANR Robin­son In­ter­na­tion­al Air­port, he said the Gov­ern­ment needs is­landers to help bring about change in the econ­o­my.

“While we are work­ing to­wards that (ex­pan­sion of the ANR Robin­son’s In­ter­na­tion­al Air­port) I am see­ing dis­tur­bances and peo­ple say­ing they are or­gan­is­ing them­selves, po­lit­i­cal re­spons­es. We (To­bag­o­ni­ans) just have to be a lit­tle less can­tan­ker­ous.”

He al­so said the is­land’s sit­u­a­tion is not as bad as per­ceived.

“To­ba­go has Trinidad to start with, most oth­er Caribbean is­lands don’t have a big sis­ter with one mil­lion peo­ple. To­ba­go should start by en­cour­ag­ing Trinida­di­ans to use To­ba­go, for what To­ba­go is; a place for re­lax­ation, a place to in­vest.”

In an im­me­di­ate re­ac­tion, To­ba­go Ho­tel and Tourism As­so­ci­a­tion (TH­TA) pres­i­dent Chris James agreed with Row­ley that Trinidad is very im­por­tant to To­ba­go’s tourism in­dus­try.

“TH­TA al­so agrees that des­ti­na­tion mar­ket­ing is crit­i­cal and should be in­creased in both our do­mes­tic and in­ter­na­tion­al orig­i­nat­ing mar­kets,” James said.

He added: “The in­dus­try in To­ba­go is in a catch 22 sit­u­a­tion. We hear calls for the up­grad­ing of prod­uct but with such low ar­rivals and low oc­cu­pan­cy the mon­ey is just not avail­able for many to con­sid­er un­der­tak­ing more debt.”

He said Caribbean Air­lines (CAL) is do­ing its best to help but the TH­TA was “ea­ger­ly await­ing the an­nounce­ment of the wet lease for the air­bridge.”

In 2017, James told mem­bers of a Joint Se­lect Com­mit­tee (JSC) that staff in the tourism in­dus­try were work­ing three-day work shifts and many tourism stake­hold­ers could not pay their bills. Last year, the tourism sec­tor - the is­land’s sec­ond largest con­trib­u­tor to its Gross Do­mes­tic Prod­uct (GDP)—took an­oth­er beat­ing as the seabridge crashed.

To­ba­go Unique Bed and Break­fast & Self Cater­ing As­so­ci­a­tion pres­i­dent Kaye Trot­man ex­pressed sim­i­lar sen­ti­ments to James. “We are in favour with the gen­er­al trend of the dis­cus­sion but those are for the medi­um term im­pact...we have East­er and Jazz com­ing up and we are not sure what the trav­el be­tween the is­lands will be like.”

She said the as­so­ci­a­tion agrees with Row­ley that more mar­ket­ing has to be done.

“How­ev­er, the com­ment (from trav­ellers) is al­ways how do we get to To­ba­go? The PM is cer­tain­ly on the right trend but our chal­lenge has al­ways been what do we do now,” Trot­man said.

Truck­ers and Traders As­so­ci­a­tion pres­i­dent Ho­race Ameade mean­while said the as­so­ci­a­tion is hope­ful the ex­ist­ing sit­u­a­tion can change. “We heard these words in 2016 when the Prime Min­is­ter met with us in To­ba­go, let’s hope we can see them brought to fruition,” Ameade said.

Reporter: Camille McEachnie

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