Speaking with Business Day at the association’s office in Lambeau on June 24, THTA President, Christopher James, cautioned that “until Central Government gives the THA its 2015 allocation in the national budget later this year, Mr Jack’s fiscal proposals for 2015, everything remains just that - a proposal. So we are cautiously optimistic that tourism in Tobago will get the financial support it needs this coming fiscal year.”
James also noted that targeting of key markets in Europe, the United Kingdom, North America and now South America, “Must go hand-in-hand with a wider range of accommodation and available room stock.”
Improving Tobago’s hotel and guest room stock ranges from building modern facilities to upgrading existing ones.
This year’s budget included recurring expenditure of $16.5 million for what Jack described as “continued assistance to Small Properties in the Tourism Industry.”
James said the “low interest rate loan initiative” which began last year, has been “an assistance” to several THTA members in renovating/upgrading their properties. “They’re pleased with it and I’m sure happy to hear the THA plans to continue the initiative.”
James sought to clarify the purpose of another financial support initiative, this one from the Central Government in Trinidad - the Government Loan Guarantee Programme (GLGP).
“Banks and other loan providers have been reluctant to give loans to persons in the tourism sector, especially after the drop-off in visitor numbers a few years ago. That’s where the GLGP comes in. It reduces the risk by offering a guarantee on loan applications but only,” James emphasised, “for projects that have passed all due diligence checks. People seem to be confusing this with what the THA is doing. They are separate initiatives.”
The THTA president then turned his attention to the importance of developing markets in Brazil, Canada, and other countries. “We saw a sharp drop-off in visitor numbers as when the 2008 global financial crisis hit, and many UK visitors could no longer afford to book Tobago vacations. At one point, 65 percent of our visitors came from the UK. That number dropped sharply after the economic downturn.”
James explained that the benefit of having an established presence in various markets is that, “If one market experiences problems, we can reduce our marketing budget for that country and spend more on another whose economy is doing better.”
Unlike many other Caribbean countries, such as the Bahamas where a mere $0.15 of every tourism dollar is retained in-country, James said, “more than $0.70 of every tourism dollar spent in Trinidad and Tobago, stays in TT.”
As such, the THTA president urged Central Government to recognise the importance of tourism to the entire country, not just Tobago. He also called for Gross Domestic Product (GDP) statistics specific to Tobago’s tourism sector, to better inform decisions taken by stakeholders about current and future promotional activities and investments.