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THE CLOSURE OF TDC

Published: 
Wednesday, August 16, 2017

It has been reported that the government and the Communication Workers Union have now agreed terms for the closure of TDC, which is now scheduled to close its doors on September 28.

TDC was the purpose-built state enterprise that evolved from TIDCO, and was created with the express purpose of guiding, directing and promoting the development of tourism in Trinidad and Tobago.

Having played midwife to TDC’s birth 14 years ago, when serving as Tourism Adviser to Minister Chin Lee during the Manning Administration, I must confess to being seriously disturbed over its demonstrable failure, and ultimate demise.

Most countries in the Caribbean, and for that matter in the wider world, have Tourist Boards, by whatever name. They employ industry professionals to monitor the successful day to day administration and marketing of their tourism product. It therefore did not seem like a huge leap of faith to replicate that successful formula for T&T.

However, we obviously reckoned without Trinidad’s bureaucratic compulsion to overstaff, and its political addiction to filling its state enterprise Boards of Directors with quite unqualified party loyalists.

In the interceding years the number of TDC employees have more than doubled, the board of directors is now almost completely bereft of any tourism expertise, and the marketing budget has been slashed year after year as other sectors received greater political priority.

Inevitably the tourism industry has withered on the vine, and related businesses have withered with it, as Tobago arrivals fell from more than 90,000 arrivals a year in 2005 to less than 20,000 last year.

It is reported that TDC will now be replaced by two new marketing agencies, one for Tobago and the other for Trinidad. Actually this would be no bad thing since they are quite different destinations, and should be developed and promoted separately.

Having said that if the new agencies are not properly staffed with professionals, and their boards of directors are not replete with tourism expertise, then the results will be no different from the old TDC.

There is an old but true saying: “If you always do what you always did, you will always get what you always got”. Let’s hope that this will not be the case with TDC’s replacement agencies.

Tourism is not rocket science, but like any other industry it requires professional management to be successful, and not only at home.

Every source market requires knowledgeable representatives to be the destination’s interlocutor with the trade and media establishment there. These of course differ substantially from one market to the next.

This simply cannot be either understood or managed from Port-of-Spain.

Destination marketing and promotion is expensive, and obviously demands an appropriate budget.

Both Trinidad and Tobago need to be resonantly branded, and that requires appropriate funding. The industry needs to be competitively incentivised, you cannot expect financial institutions, whether they be domestic or foreign, to invest their funds here when they can get a much better deal in most of the neighbouring islands.

The formula for success is simple:

• Hire a professional executive director; if you cannot find one locally, recruit one from abroad;

• Let the executive director hire his/her own staff; he or she has to work with them after all;

• Appoint a board of directors composed of industry experts to provide knowledgeable oversight;

• Provide each agency with a realistic budget with which to build its destination brand;

• Revise appropriate legislation to ensure that our investment incentives are internationally competitive.

If we don’t do that, then we will never be seen as being serious about tourism, and we might just as well not have a tourist board at all, whatever we choose to call it.

John Bell,

In the interceding years the number of TDC employees have more than doubled, the board of directors is now almost completely bereft of any tourism expertise, and the marketing budget has been slashed year after year as other sectors received greater political priority.