THA seeks bailout package for tourism stakeholders

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Traditional Carnival characters greet visitors on their arrival at the ANR Robinson International Airport in Crown Point, Tobago. – File photo/David Reid

Chief Secretary Farley Augustine says the Tobago House of Assembly (THA) is trying to implement a bailout package for stakeholders in the tourism sector still reeling from the effects of the covid19 pandemic.

He was speaking on Saturday at the official relaunch of the Kariwak Village Development Co, Crown Point, Tobago.

Kariwak Village, which was established in 1982, is in the process of rebranding its image to position itself as the epicentre for wellness in the region.

Augustine noted that Kariwak, like other similar establishments in the tourism sector, suffered financially over the past two years of the pandemic.

He commended the hotel’s chairman Allan Clovis and executive team for their decision to invest in wellness post-covid19.

“We really want places like Kariwak to survive and to do well so much so that I have been pestering he technocrats in finance to find more and more money so that we can create a bailout package for those in the tourism sector.”

Augustine added, “We did some grant funding and grant funding is good. What I figure the business sector needs now is a liquidity line with at least a 30-month moratorium before starting to pay so that you can catch yourself and have sort if liquidity to work with.”

He observed that although Tobago’s economy is almost fully reopened – owing to the covid19 restrictions being lifted almost one month ago – international flights coming to the island are still virtually empty.

“An international flight came in on Saturday evening (last week). But the truth is that most of those flights, they coming in pretty empty. So, it means that we have not done something right over all of these years that we have spent millions of dollars to keep these flights going. So, they can’t afford to be coming empty.”

Augustine said the situation provides an opportunity for the island to capitalise on domestic tourism.

“Just Easter alone showed us that we can overwhelm the place with just Trinis who just want a vacation that is close by, that is affordable and that is welcoming.

“And so, part of our discussion must be to ensure that we consider every Trini a tourist and not just those that come from the United Kingdom or one of our international source markets. We have to consider every Trini a tourist. Yes, they coming with US dollars but for now we will take all the TT dollars we can get.”

He said in order to step into the future, one sometimes must think back to the things that worked and figure out why it was lost.

“We have to unearth from those things in the past that which were successful and reignite some of those things. I am hopeful that Kariwak will present that reignition we need on the island.”

Augustine also used the forum to again appeal for improvements in the quality of service in Tobago.

“Ultimately, if we are having a discussion making the tourism sector successful we have to talk service in the Tobago space.

“Oh gosh. That is a problem. Oh gosh, please Tobagonians, we have to find a way to understand that service is not servitude and that giving someone a glass of water with a smile takes nothing away from you or from your character. We have to get back to doing that again.”

He added, “There is just nothing wrong with being polite and being nice…. Now that I am chief secretary I get good service wherever I go because people just recognise your face and want to be helpful. But ordinary citizens complain about the service they receive from other Tobagonians.”

Augustine said Tobagonians are generally not impolite.

“When you go into the villages and see how we live, we are by nature very polite. You can hear raucous laughter across the neighbour’s fence. We share our food with each-other.”

He added villagers often come together to cook at wakes, weddings and funerals.

“We now have to take that culture and transpose it into the tourism and service, generally, that which we know culturally. We now have to take that and move that to the place where serve people, whether it is in a restaurant, hotel, clothing store or a little shop in the street. Even if it is street food that you are selling, service is important and how you treat people is important.”

At a post-Executive Council media conference on August 23, 2021, former chief secretary Ancil Dennis announced the assembly was embarking on a three-year initiative to change the service culture in Tobago.

The first phase of the initiative, which was conducted by Singaporean company Uplifting Service, targeted senior managers and those in leadership roles within the THA and other sectors.

On that occasion, Dennis said, “The intention is to train the entire island, tourism sector operatives and even persons across the public sector, taxi operators, all those involved in any element of service will be trained in customer service.”