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