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Infighting, turf squabbles in tourism industry must end

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Given the low esteem in which tourism has so obviously been held by successive governments, and the revolving political door that has resulted in the rotation of a half dozen tourism ministers, and as many TDC boards of directors over the last six years, the announcement of TDC’s impending closure, should not have come as much of a surprise to anyone in the tourism world.

Inevitably, perhaps, the Communications Workers Union has signalled its intention to aggressively defend the 120 workers, whose jobs at TDC now appear to be in jeopardy. This is, of course, their right and even, depending on your point of view, their obligation, but the bigger issue should surely be the escalating threat to the thousands of employees in the wider tourism industry, whose jobs have been seriously endangered by Government’s abject failure to adequately promote either of the two destinations.

Whether tourism is managed and marketed by a single body, or two separate agencies, is really not an issue. What is of much greater concern is what they would intend to do, and whether they will be given the necessary budget with which to do it. This, in turn, will be entirely contingent on the extent of the Government’s commitment to tourism.

Words without action are just so much hot air.

Actually there are several examples of quite separate destinations in the same country being successfully promoted independently of each other:

In Mexico: Cancun, Acapulco, Cabo San Lucas and Puerto Vallarta each are marketed quite independently, with funds provided in equal part by the central government in Mexico City, and the provincial government where they are located.

In The Bahamas: Nassau/Paradise Island, Freeport/Lucaya, and the Out Islands are each marketed by their separate promotion boards, with funds generated directly from the hotel room tax. All of them operate under the purview of the Ministry of Tourism.

In contrast, while Jamaica has several quite separate and distinct destinations like Montego Bay, Ocho Rios, Negril, Port Antonio and the South Coast, they are all marketed under the JAMAICA brand by the JTB. But then Jamaicans are famously proud of their country, and that pride trumps insular factionalism.

It has not been stated, but it would be reasonable to presume that the new agency designed to market Tobago, in keeping with the devolution process, will report to the THA, while the agency to market Trinidad will report directly to the Ministry of Tourism in Port-of-Spain.

It is indisputable, however, that while the two islands may offer quite different tourism products, and many industry experts have long called for them to be marketed separately, they are both still part of T&T. Each island’s tourism development and branding will continue to come under the national legal framework that defines such key issues as investment incentives, operational licenses and construction and environmental approvals.

The Ministry of Tourism will therefore continue to play a central role in the process, and the relationship between the ministry, the THA and the new agencies must be clearly spelt out, and the self-defeating turf squabbles that have characterised their recent relationships consigned to the dustbin of history.


John Bell


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