Newly elected Chief Secretary Ancil Dennis had good news for Tobago’s small guesthouse operators on Wednesday when he announced that more than half of the Government’s $50 million fund to assist in hotel upgrade works would go to these small property owners. The fund will be administered by the Tobago Tourism Agency and the money follows the pattern of challenge that the three tiers of tourism housing have been experiencing during the covid19 lockdown and travel ban. Guesthouses will get $24 million, small properties will get $22 million and hotels will receive $4 million.
Just three days after being sworn in as Chief Secretary, Dennis took on the post of Secretary for Tourism, Culture and Transportation, an indicator of his understanding of the need to shepherd the sector through the challenges it will face in surmounting the challenges that will affect the sector because of the pandemic.
While Dennis claimed that he had no “specific reason” for taking on the portfolio, there is considerable moral value in Tobago’s political leadership taking responsibility for the island’s principal revenue source independent of the Central Government.
The hospitality industry on the island must not only refurbish their facilities, they will need to retool their properties to conform to the substantial changes in expectations and housing arrangements that will accompany any reopening of tourism travel to the country. In addition to the new ground rules of social interaction, there will be demands on the industry to ensure that it is ready to control the spread of the novel coronavirus virus until a successful vaccine becomes part of the medical response.
These changes will demand that hospitality providers across the service spectrum design a regime that demonstrates a commitment to safety for their employees, which will signal how the business treats all the issues of potential transmission for every human presence on their properties.
Some guest-handling systems will need to evolve to contactless options to minimise points of potential transmission, which will mean raising the game of the local hospitality industry to include more digital interventions in what has largely been an analogue business. Some of that spending must therefore target not only overdue infrastructural repairs and upgrades, but the rethinking of the entire customer experience from arrival to departure to accommodate new expectations from customers.
Dennis also hinted at the need for Tobago to improve its sites and attractions, and all these public spaces will also need to be re-engineered to meet and accommodate visitors in an environment of safe engagement.
Trinidad and Tobago has demonstrated leadership in its managing of covid19. For Tobago to win tourism customers, it must now lead in its design of a virus-aware hospitality industry.