Tobago hotelier against inter-island fare increases

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Carol-Ann Birchwood-James

TOBAGO Hotel and Tourism Association vice-president Carol-Ann Birchwood-James has described the $57.6 fiscal package as “painful.”

She welcomed the $220 million incentive for health workers who worked tirelessly during the covid19 pandemic over the past two and half years.

But Birchwood-James said the fare increases on the sea- and airbridge as well as the increase in fuel prices would put additional strain on Tobagonians.

“It is good that (Finance Minister Colm Imbert) gave an incentive to health care workers – the $220 million, as a thank you from the nation. So that’s a good move. But there is a lot of pain in the budget because you are taking about raising gasoline and as you raise gasoline, everything else rises,” she told Newsday.

“Then you raise the airbridge and seabridge, which will add more pain to Tobagonians, because we are travelling back and forth for a necessity.”

In his presentation on Monday, Imbert announced that diesel has increased to $4.41 per litre and super gasoline is now $6.97 per litre. Premium gasoline has increased to $7.75 per litre and kerosene, $4.41 per litre.

He also announced that fares on the airbridge have moved from $150 to $200 per individual (one way) and passengers on the inter-island ferries will now have to pay $75 for standard class (one way) and $150 for premium class.

People 60 and over, who were not required to pay for trips on the seabridge, will now have to fork out $25 (one way) to travel on the ferries.

Referring to the seabridge, Birchwood-James recalled that when she was a child, people often travelled to Trinidad for holidays.

“But people generally don’t do that any more. When people travel to Trinidad, it is for medical, business or travelling reasons.”

She said she knows many people over 60 who do not travel frequently on the ferry.

“We go because we have to go to Trinidad for land business, lawyer issues.”

She said the government should not have increased the fares on both the air- and seabridge.

“I am saying you cannot raise the two of them. Raise one or the other. It’s pain, but you cannot deliver the pain on both sides.”

She believes the ferry fare should have remained at $50 for standard class.

“The tickets should have been kept as (is) – and forget about the 60-plus who are going on the ferry and have worked hard in Trinidad and Tobago and then you are trying to punish them when when they have gotten a little reward.”

However, Birchwood-James welcomed measures to enhance Tobago’s tourism sector and expand the GATE programme.

She said she listened to a television programme on CNN recently in which a female entrepreneur said they were not looking for people with university degrees and diplomas alone, but those with technical skills.

“That tells you that in all of those developed countries, they looking for technical people. So there must be a big push for technical/vocational training.”

Birchwood-James said mechanics and other technically-skilled personnel with recognised businesses should be given incentives for training young people. She added the young people should also be given stipends.

She said the budget was silent on issues pertaining to the ease of doing business and the repeal of the Land Licence Act.

“We need people to come here to live with money to invest, build villas, hotels, and you have to ease up the idea of doing business in Tobago to encourage tourism.”