THE REPORTED divergence between the leadership of Tourism Trinidad Limited and its line ministry, Tourism, is not only about conflict between different levels of governance but also a clear symptom of an ailing tourism sector.
Whether in Trinidad or Tobago, since 2015, tourism arrivals have declined. In that year, arrivals were 439,749 but by 2018, fell to 375,485. These figures, from the ministry, suggest 2019 is not likely to be any different.
In fact, the Caribbean Tourism Organisation recently recorded a 2.2 per cent drop in tourism. Those in denial over the years must now face reality. The penny has dropped.
A radical restructuring of the tourism sector, with the splitting of the Tourism Development Company into two agencies — one for Trinidad, one for Tobago — has not turned the tide in any drastic way.
It has not helped that there has been musical chairs at the level of the ministry. We have had two tourism ministers since 2015: Shamfa Cudjoe and Randall Mitchell.
Mitchell has apparently disagreed with a decision taken by Tourism Trinidad Limited’s chairman Janelle “Penny” Commissiong-Chow.
The difference of views relates to the dismissal of Camille Campbell as the CEO of Tourism Trinidad, in post for six months. The board of the new state entity has also apparently split.
A line minister has a power to issue directives to state companies, but that power is normally entrenched in a statute. Tourism Trinidad Limited, being a new agency, may not necessarily fall under any specific statute outside of the Companies' Act, opening a theoretical grey area of accountability.
A minister should be able to give orders. But there are good reasons why ministers should not become too involved in the day-to-day operations of companies under their remit.
The Cabinet risks becoming too invested in matters for which it should be at arm’s length and for which it has hired others with special talent to manage on the ground level.
Whatever the nuances forming the backdrop to this matter, it does not bode well for tourism. Have any of the parties relieved the pressures currently facing the sector?
Presumably, both Mitchell and Commissiong-Chow have the same aims. It is hoped they can find a way to move on.
Meanwhile, is our tourism product reforming itself fast enough? Little Kayleigh Lewis, the newly appointed Junior Secretary of Tourism, has called for tourism to be taught in schools and has drawn attention to the role of technology in changing the arena.
She has created an app that allows stakeholders to monitor reviews from clients, reflecting the fact that tourists are no longer uninformed. There is an entirely new, instant, social media landscape which provides almost real-time information about events and destinations.
Cabinet should resolve any grey areas fast. Mitchell and Commissiong-Chow have better things to do.