Friday 4 December, 2020

Independent Senator concerned over Tobago tourism

Photo: Independent Senator Maria Dillon-Remy. Credit: Office of the Parliament of Trinidad and Tobago.

Photo: Independent Senator Maria Dillon-Remy. Credit: Office of the Parliament of Trinidad and Tobago.

Can Tobago’s tourism product make a comeback?

This was the concern raised by Independent Senator Maria Dillon Remy as she made her contribution to the debate on the 2021 Budget in the Upper House today.

In the context of Tobago, she noted that a number of interventions have been proposed as part of the recovery plans for the tourism sector, but the “struggling” tourism product is now at the point of “ruins” following the challenges posed by COVID-19.

She said many are dependent on the jobs generated out of the tourism sector.

The Independent Senator questioned: “Can the pandemic really allow the Tobago House of Assembly to look at the tourism product that is offered and seek to re-enter the market with new and improved product? Would the wellness tourism business be the way to go? Sports tourism or some other kind of tourism? Niche tourism?”

She noted upgrades on the ANR Robinson International Airport in Tobago due to begin in January 2021 and the arrival of two new fast ferries to improve interisland sea travel.

Dillon-Remy said while these are welcome upgrades it may not be enough to compete with the other Caribbean islands for sun, sand and sea as regional travel reopens.

She believes the answer lies in frank and open discussions with those involved in the industry in Tobago.

The Independent Senator noted suggestions from the Tobago Hotel and Tourism Association, which include: the establishment of a standing committee, extensions of bank moratoria on loans, expansion of the government loan guarantee programme, making additional funds available to accommodation providers through the Tourism Accommodation Relief Grant, making Tobago a duty-free zone, and abolishing the land licence order of February 2007.

She said 63 properties have so far received 50 per cent of the accommodation relief grant of $50 million which was provided for property upgrades.

She also recalled the success of a tourism product from a small village in Castara, and urged policymakers that the input of smaller entities be considered. Dillon-Remy said these smaller groups should not be discounted as “they have something to say”.

Tourism Minister Randall Mitchell during the course of the debate later confirmed that 63 applications had been received but only 48 property owners received assistance through the programme in the amount of $18 million.

Mitchell also gave the commitment that the standing committee, a tourism task force, will be recommenced before the end of the year. He said airlift, cruise and joint marketing efforts will also form part of those discussions.

The Minister further assured that Tobago stakeholders’ suggestions are being taken on board and discussed between the Tobago House of Assembly and Finance Minister Colm Imbert.

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