Tourism division: TTAL chair not forced to resign

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Former Tobago Tourism Agency Ltd (TTAL) executive chairman Alicia Edwards. – File photo

THE THA Division of Tourism, Culture, Antiquities and Transportation claims former Tobago Tourism Agency Ltd (TTAL) executive chairman Alicia Edwards “was not asked or forced to resign.”

The division was responding late on Monday in response to an earlier PNM Tobago Council release, which it described as “mischievous.”

It claimed the Tobago Council release misrepresented the operations of TTAL, a special-purpose company under the division.

The division said Edwards, who resigned on January 2, did so “for reasons personal to her.

“The insinuation, therefore, that this was follow-up action is misleading. It should be noted categorically, that the former chairman was not asked or forced to resign,” it claimed.

In its release on Monday, titled Questions for the Chief Secretary and Secretary for Tourism, Culture, Antiquities, and Transportation, the council alluded to the division’s announcement of Edwards’ sudden resignation.

It claimed her resignation had been “in the making for some time now as there were whispers of disquiet regarding the souring relationship between the chairman and the secretary (Tashia Burris).”

The council continued, “One wonders whether this announcement was the follow-up action to the removal of the same chairman as the executive chairman of the agency.”

It further claimed, “These developments are a definite signs that the management of our vital tourism industry is in disarray with no clear plan and direction under this administration.

“We were told, in no lesser place than the House of Assembly by the Secretary of Tourism, Culture, Antiquities and Transportation that the appointment of the chairman of the board as executive chairman in 2022 was an interim arrangement while the search was (under) way for a CEO. “

The council called on Chief Secretary Farley Augustine and Burris to say whether there was any truth to claims that Tobago has an all-time low image in Germany among the travel trade in general and specifically, with the main airline flying out of that source market, whether Tobago may lose the service soon.

It also sought answers as to whether TTAL, under its existing board, has overspent its budget by $15 million and used funds allocated for the Tourism Accomodation Upgrade Programme and the Tourism Accomodation Relief Grant.

“Those funds were very specific and intended for the relief of the tourism stakeholders but seemed to have been utilised for other purposes. What (were) those purposes…and who, if anyone, approved their alternative use?”

The council questioned why three top level management positions – CEO, head of product development and head of marketing – had left the TTAL over the past 18 months.

It also wondered if the agency’s board had imploded under Edwards’ stewardship.

But in its statement, the division said it strongly condemned the Tobago Council’s release, which it claimed was “not based on facts and does not accurately represent the work of the TTAL.”

It said, “The content of the missive, irresponsibly seeks to malign the reputation and work of the TTAL. Further, it seeks to perpetuate a malicious and untrue narrative of the management of the tourism sector. “

The division said the TTAL, since its inception in 2017, has the responsibility for several areas, including destination marketing, product development, destination management and research.

“To date, work continues in these areas with the agency recording many positives.”

It also dismissed the view that Tobago’s reputation is at an all-time low. The division said the agency continues to have good relations in both the United Kingdom and German markets through the destination representatives.

“Specific to the German market, the representative, who began working with the agency in 2018 has indicated continued interest in working for the destination.”

Additionally, the division said airlift negotiations remain on schedule. Flights also continue to arrive from both the UK and Germany on a weekly basis.

“From 2022 to 2023 through our partnership with Condor Airlines, passenger arrivals have, in fact, increased significantly as the destination, and by extension, the airline industry continues to rebound.”

It said the accusations of overspending and redistribution of funding are also moot.

“As with all government agencies, shortfalls in allocation are a reality and are always navigated and managed through reprioritisation of spending.”

The division said to date the Tourism Accommodation Upgrade Programme continues, as it has since the management of the programme was moved to the agency in 2018, while the Tourism Accommodation Relief Grant initiative, which was specific to business recovery during and after the covid pandemic, was also successfully implemented.

It said since the inception of the agency, each successive board has sought to make its impact and the TTAL remains resolute in its mandate.

The current board, the division said, is made up of a several well-qualified and experienced people from across the sector. It added their work has significantly contributed to advancing the agency and enhancing Tobago’s standing as a premier destination.

The division noted in 2022 and 2023, the destination received global recognition at the Wanderlust Readers Travel Award during the World Travel Market (WTM), the world’s most influential travel trade event.

It added stakeholders have been feeling the positive impact in a myriad of ways.

“In the dive sector, for example, prior to the covid (19) pandemic, there was a decrease in dive shops on the island. However, through the work of the board and the agency we have seen an increase in the number of dive shops which is a testament to the support that has been given in order for that sub-sector to chart a course to robust recovery.”

The division said Tobago’s tourism sector “remains ours to build; for us first, and for the world to enjoy.”