|Focus on Tobago |
Thursday, March 16 2017
Much of the discussion surrounding economic diversification has had a distinct leaning primarily towards Trinidad, with only token attention being paid to the island of Tobago.
As part of our twin-island state, Tobago is indeed vastly different from Trinidad – culturally, socially and environmentally. While Trinidad could reasonably be described as the more developed of the two islands, Tobago is uniquely poised to be a beacon of sustainable development for the region.
Because of its strategic geographical location, there were numerous attempts from different quarters to colonise Tobago; from the British, French, Dutch and Courlanders. Today, the island that is speculated to have been the home of castaway Robinson Crusoe, harbours riches of built heritage, culture, archaeology and ecology.
Few would disagree that Tobago has much to offer as a tourist destination.
As outlined in the Comprehensive Economic Development Plan 2013-2017, there is a stated goal – “To transform and diversify the Tobago economy such that it is better able to adjust to rapid changes in the national and international economy by producing goods and services in which it can retain a competitive edge”. The facts are clear; Tobago has found itself with a declining economy in 2017. Falling international tourist arrivals, reduced investment, inadequate infrastructure, poor environmental protection, and a rising crime rate are some of the main challenges facing the island. Tobago urgently needs a boost.
There have been commitments from Government to implement projects which – if indeed started within the fiscal year – hold some promise for the island. The upgrade of the terminal of the Arthur NR Robinson airport must be pursued, as along with improvements to both the inter-island ferry and air services. Additionally, the interest of the renowned Sandals Resorts chain is likely to breathe new life into the island, once terms and conditions of the partnership are negotiated for mutual advantage, and for the benefit of the people of Tobago and Trinidad.
Public-private partnerships remain an open doorway for growth of the floundering Tobago economy.
The new dispensation at the Tobago House of Assembly is now charged with ensuring that impediments to investment are minimised. Similarly, established institutions should examine whether their policies serve to encourage or inhibit entrepreneurial business activity.
In the process, we must preserve the very things that make the island attractive to tourists, whether foreign or domestic. We must be mindful of protecting the delicate and much sought after ecological treasures and heritage sites. In fact, beyond preservation, far more attention must be given to development of new areas of interest to visitors and travellers seeking adventure. These will involve longer-term planning fuelled by trends and travel patterns; public education campaigns and sensitisation of local residents of all spheres of life.
The TT Chamber remains hopeful that all stakeholders will continue to work harmoniously for the greater development of Tobago’s unique gifts.