THE Tobago Business Chamber has expressed mixed views about Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar’s plan for Tobago if the United National Congress returns to government after next year’s general election.
“The Tobago Business Chamber is always open and receptive to ideas and plans for the development and improvement of business and business persons in Tobago and in that regard, some of the initiatives proposed by the Opposition Leader for Tobago, in her budget response, appear attractive while others appear to be broad blandishments on sound-bites and well-worn talking points with no real details or substance, amplified to elaborate on the operationalisation of same,” chairman Martin George told Newsday Tobago.
In her response to the 2020 budget in the House of Representatives on Friday, Persad-Bissessar delivered a comprehensive overview of the $53 billion package, some of which revolved around promoting Tobago as the ideal tourist destination. She regarded tourism, the mainstay of the island’s economy, as being “in crisis” because of marked decline in passenger arrivals and occupancy rates at hotels and guest houses.
Persad-Bissessar said a new UNC government would, among other things, invite through proper procurement private sector investors to build and/or manage the first locally branded hotel resort in Tobago. She also plans to invite international investors to establish and international cruiseship/marina complex in Plymouth.
Persad-Bissessar said the island will also be designated a duty-free port.
George said there is merit in the Opposition Leader’s plan to establish an international cruise ship port and marina in Plymouth to promote Tobago’s eco-tourism potential.
However, he observed: “Less clear is the broad generalisation of inviting investors to establish a locally branded resort in Tobago and how exactly will this fit into Tobago’s macro-economic development plan.”
George added: “What would be appreciated is if the Opposition Leader would provide more details and specifics, numbers, calculations and figures, proposed timelines and schedules which can make the proposals have much more substance, depth and practicality as opposed to being esoteric, theoretical paper arguments which may be quite divorced from reality if not tested.”
George said Persad-Bissessar and her team of advisers should have visited Tobago to meet with stakeholders and discuss plans “in some concrete fashion, so that the people of Tobago can assess for themselves the validity, genuineness, certainty and sincerity of these proposals as opposed to being mere exercises in sophistry for the purposes of parliamentary debate.”
Tobago Hotel and Tourism Association vice-president Carol-Ann Birchwood-James said she supports Persad-Bissessar’s plan for the island’s development. Birchwood-James said Persad-Bissessar’s plans are in keeping with what the island needs at this time.
“Her ideas about Tobago are more in touch with what Tobago needs,” she said.
Birchwood-James said while many of Persad-Bissessar’s plans for reviving Tobago’s tourist sector are not new, they are exactly what the island needs to get it back on track.
“We have heard about the marina but we haven’t seen it yet and we do need a cruiseship port. These are not new ideas. They have been there for a long time and it makes sense to do them if we want to make this a tourism island.”
Birchwood-James believes the tourist sector in Tobago is at a standstill.
“Obviously, right now everything is flat in Tobago. We need proper marketing and infrastructural development, especially for tourism. And we need people to come to Tobago to visit, live and invest. So, her ideas are more in tune with what our needs are at this time.”
Birchwood-James painted a dismal picture of the sector.
“We have no visitors and we only get local visitors on weekends. So we need some kind of action, more marketing so more people can come to the island to visit live and invest.”
By Corey Connelly