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Saturday 21 September 2019
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Commentary

Tourism: Business (or lack thereof) as usual

PAOLO KERNAHAN
PAOLO KERNAHAN

THE only sphere of activity in which this country really shines is bacchanal. It's unfortunate no enterprising type has created a revenue stream around it. That S&P downgrade could very well have been an upgrade if we could just monetise choreographed chaos.

The government is trying to get a handle on a chairperson seemingly gone rogue. Former beauty queen and businesswoman Penny Commissiong is at the eye of the storm in a teacup.

The recent firing of Trinidad Tourism Ltd CEO Camille Campbell has given the public a peek into the inner not-workings of state boards. She was cut loose after just six months on the job. Ever-upbeat minister of spin Colm Imbert might say we're only seeing the year as half-full. TTL, the ashes risen from the ashes, was supposed to have left the incompetence and dysfunction of its predecessor, the TDC, behind. Why anyone thought this was remotely possible will remain a mystery for the ages.

Still, the internal wrangling at the state organisation raises several questions. According to newspaper reports, Campbell was aggressively headhunted from TSTT. Why go through all that intrigue only to give her the heave-ho after such a short period? Additionally, what’s all this talk of proposed training for the revolving-door TTL CEO? Given the comatose state of tourism in this country, wouldn’t someone already equipped with the training and experience be more ideal?

The public can’t really know what went on behind closed boardroom doors. The person (more conch-shell- blower than whistleblower) who leaked the information was more drips and drops than a knowledge-quenching flow. Consequently, us plebs looking on aren’t really in a position to make judgments on Campbell’s suitability for the position.

Campbell, for her part, ain't taking that so. She is suing TTL for her dismissal, because there are too many attorneys in this country who are underemployed and in need of sharpening their litigation skills. The ongoing blue-soap opera at the newly vintage tourism body raises many more questions.

There is one, however, that hasn't popped up anywhere; at least not conspicuously. Why haven't successive state tourism entities been able to get it right? At the moment we're so wrapped up in the scandal du jour it has escaped our attention that this is actually business as usual in tourism.

Numerous iterations of tourism governing bodies have failed this country time and time again. Our selective amnesia enables us to forget it was not long ago former tourism minister Shamfa Cudjoe was sent packing and the government torpedoed the TDC. TDC was TIDCO and she told two friends and so on and so on.

Here we are in 2019 and the Commissiong-led TTL board has fallen to rancour, disagreeing over who is responsible for this country's poor showing at the arrivals hall. If only they knew there is no need to fight for the failure trophy. They've all earned a space on the podium of odium.

Other Caribbean destinations with paltry-by-comparison budgets are turning water into wine. In TT we keep ourselves busy turning wine into vinegar. It has always appeared as though our state tourism machinery doesn’t understand the product it’s selling. Consequently, we are unable to create an effective marketing strategy.

Jumping up in a Carnival band or a day trip to Maracas bay on an air-conditioned maxi for a ministerial photo-op doesn't necessarily qualify anyone in tourism to market this country. Even worse, foreign tourism trade shows are little more than extravagant pyres of taxpayers' dollars, at least in the way we interpret them.

There has never been any evidence that we grasp the importance of selling what's unique about this country and creating packages around those qualities. Costa Rica, on the other hand, gets it. Its tourism numbers are rising steadily on the strength of its eco-tourism product. In this country we're happy to eat ours and burn what's left of it to the roots.

Our tourism sites have all the aesthetic charm of Chernobyl. Visitor infrastructure is non-existent, signage is faded, stray dogs are abundant and absolutely no one is responsible. But we have a bunch of grown tourism misfits battling in a boardroom over petty affairs while the rest of the region, and the world, put proper miles between them and us. If only the TTL board could have gone the extra mile and fallen on their own swords while they were whetting their daggers for Campbell.

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