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Take Tobago tourism seriously
The tensions between Trinidad and Tobago have been a part of the political landscape for so long that they have become a background hum to relations between our two islands. At the core of Tobago’s ongoing difference of opinion with Trinidad is the issue of self-governance and the lingering sense that it is constantly being treated like the junior partner. Tobago argues, quite rightly, that it has its own way of life, its own attractions and its own cultural background that may sometimes be influenced by Trinidad, but which offer its own flavour and style.
These cultural differences and an adamantly proud sense of island pride have been at the heart of Tobago’s long campaign for self-governance. The issue is far from settled. Last week, Chief Secretary of the Tobago House of Assembly (THA) Orville London questioned the need for another committee to hold consultations on Tobago’s self-governance, arguing that work has already been done on the project.
It was one more expression of resentment over the perception that Trinidad must do its own consultations on a matter that the people of Tobago consider settled and ready for implementation. So when Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar announced plans for Tobago’s development, which seemed to follow the THA’s own strategies, long shared with the central government, a bit too closely, the Chief Secretary was not pleased.
Plans for growing the island’s tourism-based economy, for a first-class marina and to turn the island into a duty-free zone, were part of the THA’s own proposals, Mr London argued. Annoyance even appeared to cloud the judgment among the THA leadership, leading the Assembly’s Finance Secretary, Dr Anselm London, to dismiss the idea of making the island a duty-free zone as “ill-conceived, frivolous, and really lacking in economic merit.”
The THA, in its keenness to claim authorship of sensible and desperately needed development plans for the island, appeared to be more interested in winning political points than in getting projects started on the island that will stimulate the economy.
On May 31, Minister of Trade and Industry Stephen Cadiz announced a Tobago tourism development fund of $250 million, which would target debt restructuring for tourism businesses facing foreclosure and facilitate the upgrade and maintenance of existing properties.
These are critical aspects of the problems facing Tobago, which is dealing with a visitor shortfall that has crippled the island’s economy and shattered prospects for many businesses on an island dependent on tourism for the majority of its income. The problems are not unique to Tobago in the Caribbean, but the island, far south on the tourism route, is still to establish a distinct profile on the tourist maps of the world.
Mr London is leading the THA on a quixotic mission to define its identity when Tobago needs help. He’s already missed an opportunity to endorse and laud a familiar suite of ideas for improving the island, deciding instead that a squabble over authorship was preferable to driving home the need to implement these plans quickly and decisively.
The Chief Secretary is right to note that improving the volume of direct flights between prime destinations like Europe and Canada are critical to halting the graveyard spiral that the industry finds itself in after several years of soaring confidently.
He is wrong, however, to dismiss an increase in flights between Trinidad and Tobago as being of lesser importance.
Tobago, in seeking an independent economic profile, should not miss the opportunity to build revenue opportunities with its sister island until it can again attract the international visitors and foreign income its tourism infrastructure was built for.
To do anything else would just be misplaced Tobago love.
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