Easing Tobago’s pain
Friday, July 20 2012
Minister of Tourism Stephen Cadiz’ statement on Wednesday that Tobago’s tourism economy was hurting and that both the air-bridge and sea-bridge links between Trinidad and Tobago were among the issues affecting the sister isle was an admission that Government has not yet successfully addressed the tourism industry in Tobago.
Additionally, the Tourism Minister’s acknowledging that the terminal building at Tobago’s ANR Robinson International Airport was not only inadequate, but could not meet the standards which the tourism sector was looking for, was interesting. Minister Cadiz advised that not merely would Government’s loans guarantee programme be launched within a few days but the tourism support fund for businesses in the Tobago sector which were suffering as a result of low arrivals.
While the Tourism Ministry’s official approach to the problems facing Tobago’s tourism industry may have been influenced by the upcoming Tobago House of Assembly (THA) Elections, which are constitutionally due next year, nonetheless the Minister’s emphasising that something positive was being done is important. Surely, better days are ahead for Tobago.
Even as we welcome positive things for Tobago’s tourism sector we are, nevertheless, taken aback that low arrivals of foreign visitors, a direct result of the ongoing international financial crisis, should have been compounded by air-bridge and sea-bridge problems. Because not only do these wholly needless negative issues have a decided input in determining whether the tourists, who call at Trinidad first before going to Tobago, would return, but, whether they would encourage their relatives and friends to visit Tobago.
In turn, they impact, adversely, on levels of internal tourism, that of Trinidadians visiting Tobago.
Normally, during the July-August period when many Trinidadians take their vacations to coincide with their children’s long school holidays, Caribbean Airlines (CAL) would put on additional flights on the Piarco International Airport-ANR Robinson International Airport air-bridge. The sea-bridge sailings, operated by ferries, are also expanded.
Yet there continue to be air-bridge and sea-bridge minuses at this time, when efficiently operated increased services would translate into greater visitor revenue for Tobago. Government is positioned to ensure this as both Caribbean Airlines and the sea ferries are State owned and operated.
Minister Cadiz’ argument that the challenges were not insurmountable and that Government was putting a great deal of effort to ensure that tourism was a viable industry not only for Tobago, but for both Trinidad and Tobago, if followed through at the level, for example, of the technocrats should see a needed turnaround.
We had referred earlier to the international financial crisis resulting in the reduced number of overseas tourists. Our traditional markets for visitor arrivals — North America, the United Kingdom and Western Europe — have been hit by the global economic downturn. But even before this, Tobago’s once vibrant tourism industry had been hard hit by the September 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Centre by Al Qaeda and threats by this guerrilla organisation to attack North American and European commercial airliners.
This had the effect of decreasing air travel worldwide. And by the time that safety measures taken by Western nations and airlines to counter any perceived threat by Al Qaeda were beginning to have a positive impact on air travel, there was the development of the current and continuing global economic downturn, the worst the world has known since the Great Depression of 1929.
Tobago has been the harder hit of the twin island State of Trinidad and Tobago, largely because of its dependence on tourism. Strategies have to be developed by the Central Government in close association with the Tobago House of Assembly in the long-term interest of Tobago as well as of Trinidad.