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A strategic plan for tourism

Sunday, May 1, 2011
Derren Joseph

On April 19, something called Tourism TV was launched. Specifically, a tourism breakfast seminar was streamed over the Internet. It was hosted by our Ministry of Tourism at the Leon Agostini Conference Hall, Chamber Building, Columbus Circle, Westmoorings. Unfortunately, I was in St Kitts at the time but I was looking forward to logging on to this Tourism TV, were it not for my issues with LIME (a Cable and Wireless brand) which meant I could not get on to the web at the time. Fortunately, a few kind friends were e-mailing me minute by minute updates which I could read on my Blackberry. One thing that confused me was that one friend explained that a member of our Cabinet appointed Tourism Standing Committee seemed to be unaware of the details of a strategic plan that was being developed. This would suggest that this plan is being done independently of the very stakeholders who would be responsible for mobilising it. The logic of this eludes me. I am not alone as other regional destinations, such as Barbados (which is a destination that is bucking the trend and registering positive growth) agree that stakeholder-driven Tourism Standing Committees need to be at the very centre of any strategic planning process.

In Barbados last year, Minister of Tourism Richard Sealy lamented that tourism “could no longer be operated on an ad hoc basis”.  As a result, their recently reactivated Tourism Advisory Council (equivalent to our Standing Committee) chaired by, Dr Sherma Roberts, was given responsibility for leading the process for the development of a White Paper on tourism development. This White Paper would then form the basis of a Tourism Master Plan for the island. Dr Roberts was quoted as saying that the White Paper would be a policy document designed to provide the strategic direction for Barbados’ tourism development over the next ten years. Clearly, in an industry with the characteristics of tourism, getting stakeholders to not just buy-in, but to actually drive the decision making process is desirable. Coincidentally a couple weeks ago, the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) and the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) began cooperating to strengthen tourism development in Latin America and the Caribbean. A first step in this programme, which will run until the end of 2012, was a workshop on Tourism Statistics for the Southern Cone countries held in Montevideo in collaboration with the Ministry of Tourism of Uruguay.

This initiative is important because it reminds us that tourism development is a science as well as an art. The UNWTO advocates the use of Tourism Satellite Accounting (TSA) which is an econometric model for understanding the impact or contribution of the tourism sector to the overall economy.  For those who truly understand, it is an indispensable tool in crafting tourism strategy. It allows trained users to drill down and identify the levers that will drive sector performance.  In 2008—2009, Trinidad and Tobago updated its TSA (using WTTC methodology rather than UNWTO) and it revealed that the tourism sector generated 10.6 per cent of GDP and 14.7 per cent of total employment.

A tourism decision maker in St Lucia recently explained to me just how indispensable TSA is in their planning process. In 2010, technocrats in their Ministry of Finance were actually considering cutting the tourism marketing budget until the TSA model was presented to them. Using their TSA model, it was clear how a cut in marketing funds would impact employment and GDP.   After the meeting, marketing funds were increased—not cut. As we look at their 2011 arrivals to date, St Lucia’s strategy is clearly paying off.

This is where we need the tourism sector in Trinidad and Tobago to be. We need to raise the level of debate. First clarify where we are, identify where we need to be, and agree a road-map to its achievement with stakeholders. Like St Lucia, we already have the analytical tools. Like Barbados, we have the stakeholder driven standing committee.  All we need is for our tourism decision-makers to come together, in the spirit of public/private partnership; and agree a way forward.  Remember the three elements of a good tourism strategy—return on investment, return on investment and return on investment. My name is Derren Joseph and I love my country. As always, I end by saying that despite our challenges, we are so blessed to live in this beautiful land.  Let us continue to have the audacity of hope in the future of our beloved country.


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