THE Tobago House of Assembly (THA) is optimistic about the island's economic prospects in 2019. In a statement, the Office of the Secretary of the Division of Education, Innovation and Energy identified airlift capacity, sea bridge, tourism, new business, agriculture and fishing and energy as some areas where there was potential for growth this year.
The THA said it remains committed to ensuring there is adequate airlift to and from Tobago's main tourism source markets. The THA said only recently it secured the direct service of Sunwing Airlines out of Pearson’s Airport, Toronto, Canada. Sunwing is operating weekly flights and this is expected to continue up to April.
The THA estimated that at the end of 2018 winter charter "more than 3,000 visitors will arrive in Tobago from this North American Source Market." The assembly hoped that based on the response to the service, Sunwing will expand beyond the winter period. The assembly also said the Tobago Tourism Agency "continues to work to secure a low-cost carrier out of the UK market." The agency is also in negotiations to secure direct service out of the highly lucrative Scandinavian market.
The THA is anticipating " increased airlift from our traditional as well as non-traditional markets in 2019."
The THA said Tobago's economic and social development is "inextricably linked to a dependable and reliable air and sea bridge." The domestic air bridge, the assembly said, remains an essential service and possible a life line for Tobagonians. Given the importance of the airbridge for leisure and business transactions, THA said efforts will be made to derive arrangements consistent with the growing needs of Tobago.
The THA said over the last year and a half, the inter-island transportation system has been a major cause of concern for Tobagonians. With its impact being far reaching and not limited to the business community, the THA said it remains committed to working with the Government to find a sustainable and feasible solution to ongoing problems of the sea bridge. The assembly said the acquisition of two new fast ferries from Australia in 2020 "will significantly address problems on the sea bridge over the long term."
In the short to medium term, the THA said, "We expect that with the imminent lease of a third ferry, the existing challenges will be alleviated as we await the arrival of the two new ferries." The seabridge is currently serviced by the Galleons Passage, TT Spirit and the Cabo Star.
While there are ongoing efforts to expand and strengthen the tourism sector in Tobago, the THA said it remains committed to diversify Tobago's economy and develop an indigenous business class. The assembly said it has several initiatives in place to support entrepreneurial activities and that, "we expect an intensification of these activities."
The THA will continue to provide financial and technical support to allow Tobago entrepreneurs and potential entrepreneurs to establish and expand their businesses, through the Enterprise Assistance Fund and the Enterprise Assistance Grant programmes. Both of these programmes fall under the THA's Business Development Unit.
The unit will intensify its community outreach activities to ensure that people throughout Tobago can benefit from their services. The assembly has initiated discussions with the Caribbean Development Bank towards the establishment of a business incubator at the Cove Eco-Industrial and Business Park. This incubator will provide start-ups and small and micro enterprises with the nurturing environment needed in the early phase of their development with intensive hands-on business support from subject-matter experts and experienced entrepreneurs, and access to finance.
Ten businesses in Tobago have been shortlisted as part of the pilot to kick-start the incubator programme. Only recently, the assembly signed a memorandum of understanding with ExporTT that will see a range of export readiness training programmes available to entrepreneurs in Trinidad, being offered to Tobago entrepreneurs to assist them in accessing export markets. Also to support entrepreneurial activities, the assembly is collaborating with a number of state agencies to establish a product testing facility in Tobago to ensure our entrepreneurs on the island are meeting the necessary standards.
Through the Eco-Industrial Development Company of Tobago (E-IDCOT), the assembly is making factory space and lands available to Tobagonians to develop and expand businesses on the island. E-IDCOT is also at present reviewing the feasibility study for the construction of a cargo port in Tobago. This port is important to assist businesses in Tobago to import raw materials for production and to export their finished goods. In addition, Venture Capital Equity Fund Ltd is making equity capital available to allow Tobago entrepreneurs and potential entrepreneurs to establish and expand their businesses.
Agriculture and fishing
The assembly will also seek to increase the contribution of the agricultural and fishing sectors to Tobago’s GDP. Farmers on the island are being exposed to capacity enhancement training in a wide range of areas related to agricultural production. These include crop and livestock production, bee-keeping, post-harvest management, livestock health, and agro-processing. The assembly said the Youth Apprentice in Agriculture Programme (YAPA) has been re-organised. A number of young people in Tobago are now being exposed to training to encourage them to see agriculture as a worthwhile and viable livelihood.
The assembly said this capacity enhancement training is also being done to retool the agricultural sector in preparation for the establishment of the Sandals and Beaches resorts in Tobago. The THA said, "It is estimated that annually, Sandals and Beaches resorts in Tobago would require approximately, 950,000 pounds of potatoes; 880,000 pounds of pineapple; 580,000 pounds of lettuce; 911,400 pounds of citrus; 514,000 pounds of tomatoes; 416,000 pounds of chicken.
A micro credit facility has been established at the Agricultural Development Bank (ADB) for small farmers. Fishing loans are being offered by the ADB to assist fishermen to improve their operations. A coconut revitalisation programme has been established. The THA said the Agriculture Ministry will soon launch its agri-incentive programme which offers up to $100,000 to new and existing farmers to encourage and invest in upgrades of their farms.
The THA is hoping for a significant growth in tourist arrivals in 2019. The assembly said the Tobago Tourism Agency has developed a three-year road map for growth for the island's tourism sector. The agency has also developed a new brand, Tobago: Beyond Ordinary to more effectively market Tobago and increase the island’s visibility in the international market place. The agency is making use of digital marketing as a cost-effective strategy to market the island.
Recently the agency and the TT Bureau of Standards signed a service level agreement that will see the two entities working together to improve the delivery of service in Tobago’s tourism sector with the TT Tourism Industry Certification (TTTIC) programme. The agency also helping properties in the tourism sector in Tobago to upgrade their properties under the Tourism Accommodation Upgrade Programme. The assembly continues to collaborate with the Government on the construction of the new airport terminal at Arthur NR Robinson International Airport and a marina in South West Tobago.
The Sandals and Beaches Resorts remains the major project which the THA believes will bring the most benefit to Tobago's economy.
The Assembly said, "One of the significant aspects of this project is that it allows us to simultaneously address three persistent problems affecting the tourism sector on the island." These are insufficient marketing spend, inadequate airlift and the lack of high-quality rooms on the island. The memorandum of understanding between Government and Sandals Resorts International was signed on October 10, 2017.
Tobago's economy could also benefit from energy exploration in the island's waters. The assembly said, "We know that Shell is about to start extracting gas from Block 22 and NCMA-4 and pipe the proceeds to the gas-processing facilities at Atlantic LNG in Trinidad."
All of Block 22 and 96 per cent of NCMA-4, the THA said, are squarely in what can be considered “Tobago waters”. In addition, BHP Billiton recently announced major gas finds in block TTDAA-14. The assembly said this block is also squarely in “Tobago’s waters". Government has successfully negotiated gas agreements with Atlantic’s Train One’s main shareholders, Shell and BPTT, including a new pricing formula that will “enhance the revenue of TT.”
The assembly hoped this will be taken into consideration as the discussions on self-government progress. The THA also disclosed a department of energy will be formed this year within its Division of Education, Innovation and Energy. The objective of this new department will be "to direct and manage all energy related initiatives and activities."