Claude Benoit, Chairman of the Tobago Chamber of Industry and Commerce said on Tuesday nothing can be done to help the tourism sector or the island’s economy until the seabridge returns to full operational strength.
He was responding to reports by tourism stakeholders on Monday of a zero to 50 per cent occupancy rate for this Easter season which he described as “disheartening.”
In an interview with Newsday Tobago, Benoit called on Government and the Tobago House of Assembly to do their part in ensuring inter-island transport was efficient and functional.
"The government would not have done their job in ensuring that the sea and airbridges are fully operational. There is a disconnect as to the responsibility to ensure a reliable service so that when the business community invests, we will have good returns and a booked economy,” Benoit said.
“We have a lot of investors in Tobago who would have invested their life savings on this island. That is what we at the Chamber do. But we need the government to make that easy for us. We need them to facilitate and put things in place so what we invest in will work well.
He noted that while it was being reported that hotels and guesthouses were empty, participants at a recent (march 4) Think Tank session hosted by the Chamber, provided information to support this.
"We approached the Tobago House of Assembly with the idea that we can work together to come up with a plan to see if we can have a bailout mechanism and put systems in place to stabilise the downward spiral that we are in,” he said.
Calling on the THA to restore confidence of both domestic and international visitors, Benoit said:
“All this is premised on the fact that the seabridge needs to be fixed, and very soon. The fixing part has not happened.
"Even though we are putting a committee together to see how we can get the bailout and how we can stabilise the Tobago economy, we are really hoping and praying the seabridge situation is dealt with so that we can get back some confidence to get people coming again to the island.”
“Yes, we have been working on that issue, yes, we understand what is going on, and we are just in awe that the fast-ferry aspect of the seabridge is not fixed yet.
"In other words, it is our lifeline, and if you sever the lifeline, people on this side will suffer. There is no 'if' or 'maybe' about that...it hasn’t been working properly. The passenger part, to bring people to fill up the guest houses, has been severed and the cargo part is moving along, but with lots of issues.”
Benoit reserved comment on claims of sabotage on the Cabo Star until he receives more information.
Meanwhile Tourism Secretary Nadine Stewart Phillips asked what the THA was doing to help stakeholders who were reporting poor occupancy rates this Easter season, told Newsday Tobago:
“Unless I have that information I cannot comment on claims that guesthouses in Tobago have low occupancy rates.”
Told that Newsday had spoken to several people in the industry, including at the Magdalena Grand, and reports were that occupancy rate was between zero and 50 per cent, Stewart-Phillips responded, “Unless the Division did its own report, then my answer remains the same. I cannot comment on an investigation done by you.”