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Tourism, kool aid & narcissism
I was momentarily discombobulated at the response of the Honourable Minister of Tourism, Stevie (“Wonder”) Cadiz, to the news that T&T has made yet another top ten: one of the ten worst tourist destinations in the world. The minister said his ministry was so busy focusing on the positive criticism, or something like that, they hadn’t noticed. (The WEF Travel & Tourism Report 2013, p 41, ranks our “affinity for tourism” at 133 out of 140 countries surveyed. Plus a whole bunch of other far from happy-making data.)
How could the reality be so far from our fond beliefs—that tourists come in the billions for Carnival, and they all love our cultyere? How could the Minister of Tourism, who knows about the steadily declining tourist arrivals to Tobago since 2005, not know this? How could he not have seen the Web site tntwarning.com put up by a Canadian tourist after he got a dose of Tobago love? (And not even a full dose, like Peter and Murium Green.)
Sadly, it’s not just the Minister of Tourism who seems to be afflicted with the “duh” virus, which causes sensible people to become, uhm, less than sensible. It’s the whole PP posse in virtually every area of importance—crime, education, social issues, the environment, judicial reform, culture. Confronted by any stray fact which manages to slip through, PP panjandrums assume the mien of deer in headlights, or corbeaux in sponge cake.
This is far from the sobriety and clarity they displayed pre-2010. I remember Gypsy reading from Confessions of an Economic Hitman in Woodford Square. Senator Timothy Hamel-Smith at the same venue made an impassioned plea for prison reform, calling the Remand Yard a “ticking time-bomb.” Minister Cadiz started the Keith Noel 136 Committee, a crime pressure group, after his employee was murdered in 2005.
But now, that clarity and those facts are gone, along with the will to act, and it seems they’re drunk on their own Kool Aid. This by itself isn’t surprising. In all organisations, sooner or later, groupthink takes hold. In politics it’s especially treacherous—in crisis, facts are the first to be lined up and shot, especially when the facts suggest you’re looting the treasury. It worked for the PNM. For a while, anyway.
But it doesn’t appear to be working for the PP, and recent history makes the Government’s desertion of fact for fantasy, to its ongoing detriment, more stunning. From the polling data which might have mitigated the beat-down in Tobago, to accurate economic, environmental or crime statistics—relevant facts are just not there, and consequences invariably follow.
Examples are large and small—like the cultural industries company, making Jamal Mohammed Minister of Communication, getting rid of Dwayne Gibbs, Hoops for Life, the disastrous Independence celebrations and so on.
But this is bigger than the PP. When institutions, and a country, choose not to be led by fact, they end up being led by rumour, conjecture, mauvais langue and whispers. Such has been the nature of the post-independence Trini institutional beast. In the absence of official information, or reliably absurd official information, alternative information institutions, practices, and interpretive methods emerged.
Ergo, much, if not most, of the populace now holds official sources in contempt, like fact and logic generally, in favour of informal sources and “grassroots” wisdom, available from strongholds of folk probity, church, temple, mosque, the TnT Mirror, i95.5, and Calypso Monarch finalists.
Generations of this epistemic corruption have left a deluded, gullible population—in the mass, although individually, you’d find spots of sanity. Specific to tourism, the toxic combination of being unable to distinguish between fact and fiction, and the encouragement to interpret all non-conforming information as hostile, have left the populace susceptible to many comforting, but ridiculous beliefs.
For example, Trini culture, and Trinis, are somehow special and unique, and tourists are fighting to come here. Reality: Only in our wildest fantasies—which, let it be said, can be pretty wild.
We conveniently ignore the fact that many, if not most, “tourists” are patriotic Trinis who live in other countries, while insisting how patriotic they are, who come “home” for ten days a year to prove it. There’s also the fantasy that Trinidad has culture, natural talent and wealth because of its people and their ingenuity, which make it attractive to tourists. Reality: We have money because of oil and the minute it run out, we dead. And 99 per cent of our talent is only successful after they leave/escape sweet T&T.
All that aside, it’s also evident that much of what is touted as tourist rhetoric is equally a kind of sly nationalist narcissism, and state propaganda. Some individuals choose to believe the story rather than facing the facts, and the State wants them to. The more we believe tourists want to come here, the more it validates the official self-image. As the society gets worse, the greater the State’s interest in promoting what is ostensibly the happy “tourist” story, for the benefit of nationals, and ignoring the facts.
The emphasis becomes the local impact of the story, or mythology, that we’re OK, desirable, and people want to come here, rather than its impact on potential tourists. Even if you don’t believe it, you’re paralysed by cognitive dissonance. If the emphasis were on attracting tourists, common sense would tell you, if you’re the minister of tourism, that tourists tend to stay away from places with high crime rates, non-existent public services (like public transportation), and hostile populations.
This is also why thousands of Trinis each year become permanent tourists in other countries. A good way to fix T&T for tourists would be to fix it for the rest of us first.
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