Morris knocks ‘misleading’ THA tourism figures; secretary ‘celebrating the wins’

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Passengers from the Norwegian Sky cruise ship arrive at the Port of Scarborough on February 4. – Division of Tourism

THA Minority Leader Kelvon Morris has slammed the Division of Tourism for providing “misleading” figures on the number of international arrivals for January 2024.

The division posted a graphic on its social media pages on February 14 stating that the island welcomed approximately 27,899 international visitors for January. The division said it was “great news” and a 27.2 per cent increase from the previous year. It said it was the highest number of arrivals for any January since 2017.

Tourism Secretary Tashia Burris has come under fire from Morris, who, during a press conference on Friday and a Facebook like on Monday, questioned the figures.

According to UN Tourism, “A visitor is a traveller taking a trip to a main destination outside his/her usual environment, for less than a year, for any main purpose (business, leisure or other personal purpose) other than to be employed by a resident entity in the country or place visited. A visitor (domestic, inbound or outbound) is classified as a tourist (or overnight visitor), if his/her trip includes an overnight stay, or as a same-day visitor (or excursionist) otherwise.”

Morris accused Burris of “fudging” the arrival figures to make her division appear to be performing well.

In a Facebook live on Sunday, Burris said, “There are plenty people out here who are unwashed and illiterate and have you believing lies.”

“When I say unwashed – I mean they’re not baptised, you have no part of God in them, they have no part of the spirit in them, they out here doing evil. They are waking up every morning to try and make my life and your life a living hell – unwashed and illiterate. They will have you believing lies.”

She added: “Some people back home will have you all believing that nothing is happening in Tobago, nothing good is happening in Tobago, but every time we take one step forward for good, people try to drag us ten steps back.”

Morris said if the figures were accurate, it would be a record for Tobago and something worth celebrating.

“Usually the average international arrivals arriving by air or sea, yachties and so on, is about 3,000 or so in January,” he said..

“In interrogating the figures, I wanted to get an idea where did these people come from. I know at this time you only have British Airways coming out of UK, Condor coming out of Germany and Caribbean Airlines coming out of New York. When I did the research… only 1,872 persons came to this island by air, and a further 22 persons came by sea. These are visitors, and the reason they are categorised as international visitors is that they are disembarking and staying on the island for at least one night. That is the internationally accepted definition of a visitor.”

He said he dissected figures from the Port Authority on cruise-ship arrivals for January and realised where the 27,899 figure came from.

“The division calculated every passenger that boarded these cruise ships. The secretary decided to count all those passengers. Whether you came off the cruise ship; whether you disembarked and walked around and took a tour; whether you did that or stay on the ship and enjoy the pool and free food – this secretary decided to count all those passengers as international tourist arrivals.

“I doh know about you but the little common sense in me tells me that unless you disembark and come on the island, you are not a visitor,” he said, accusing the secretary and officials of misleading Tobagonians.

He said the majority of cruise ships come to Tobago in the morning and leave by evening.

“I would hope the secretary can at least tell us with a level of certainty: how many came off the ship and contributed to the economy of Tobago. When you’re talking about tourism, you’re about the business of getting people to spend foreign currency in your local economy – that is the crux of the matter at hand.

“It cannot be that the secretary would take the cruise numbers, lump it in the international numbers and try to create a glossy picture that all is well when the average hotel occupancy for the month of January is 30 per cent.”

He said he spoke to one of the leading hotels on the island who confirmed this.

“Yet the Tobago Tourism Agency is telling us that 27,899 visitors visited this island.”

He said the division was attempting to “hide their incompetence, their lack of performance, their lack of ability to get to get tourism figures back to 2017 and 2014 and 2019 and 2020.”

He said it would be ludicrous to count all passengers as visitors when they have no stamp from immigration.

He said they should have also counted the crew on board the ships as well as passengers who land at the airport in transit to other countries.

“Perhaps the number should have been even higher.

“This is the level of foolishness that is passing for governance in Tobago. These people feel they can fool us. They believe we are gullible and we will take anything and run with it.”

He said this is the lowest numbers of international arrivals this island has had in the last decade.

However, Burris said this was one of the most exceptional cruise ship seasons in terms of numbers.

“Somebody want to tell me about numbers – what is your issue? Did I invent those people – are they ghosts?

“Did they jump on the ship while it was on the way to Tobago, like barnacles or something.

“So you are telling me that I lie, my comms officer lie, the research people lie, the Airports Authority lie, the Port Authority lie and the cruise ship operator lie too – well all right, all ah we lie then. Like I would literally take some figures from out of the atmosphere to make up a story? Oppose with sense.”

She said she is celebrating the wins in her division

“We have plenty wins to celebrate – 27,899 human beings visited, whether they stayed for a few hours, whether they stayed for a couple days, whether they stayed for a couple weeks – they come. I am counting everybody who come; whether they come by boat, whether they come by plane, whether they teleport, whether they come by pirogue, whether they drop out of the sky – whatever. I counting all of them – you know why? Tobago needs to celebrate its wins.”