Store Bay reef tour operators are committed to the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) signed with the Tobago House of Assembly (THA), even if it comes at a financial cost.
The Buccoo Reef Marine Park re-opened on Monday with 18 operators agreeing to end the practise of touting for customers.
The MoU also contained aspects of the Buccoo Reef Marine Park User Policy which represents an overall strategic plan to regularise how the site is utilised, protected and sustainably managed to ensure visitor safety, financial sustainability and ecological protection.
One operator, Michael Frank, who has over 25 years of professional knowledge and experience in the field told Newsday on Wednesday that the collaboration was necessary.
“I actually think it’s a good idea, it would benefit all the stakeholders. Before this, there used to be a whole lot of hustling, everybody use to be hustling for the passenger and that use to cause a major problem with the price especially. Everybody hustling for the same passenger; one would charge $80, one would charge $100 and some would charge $120 – that created a problem,” he said.
Frank, the owner of Frankie Tours, said he along with Cool Runnings, another large boat, would gobble the profits as their vessels had music and hosted a lot of parties.
“We used to go out four and five times per day while the smaller boats that don’t have the same amount of facility would not even have one chance. Although it might sound beneficial to me, which it was, it does not give the guys with the smaller boats a chance because the big boats took all the business constantly.”
Frank acknowledged this created a lot of friction.
“It caused a lot of animosity amongst the operators because they use to find that only one set would be gaining the benefits. I used to feel a personal way because I don’t want to sound greedy or feel greedy but as the bigger boats, we use to get the clients and the smaller boats had no chance. So now that the system has changed, everybody would have an equal chance,” he said.
While Frank stands to lose through the collaboration, he's willing to stick to the MoU for the greater good.
“It might work against me but I think it’s a good thing, generally. Now, I would not be able to run my boat every day because we won’t get that volume of people coming for tours every day. What might work for me in my point of view is that people might call me to make a booking directly and if they do that, I am allowed to carry them out as they would be classified as my client, but that in any way won’t hamper the other operators as they would still go out on a day-to-day basis using the booth system.
"People look at me as a leader and as a leader, it doesn’t matter if I have to take the loss, at least the legacy is that I would have set a proper example,” he said.
He added: “My income would be less by far… it would impact negatively on my business personally, but it would impact positively on other businesses. I want it to work, I really want it to work.”
He recalled that the same system was tried by the Assembly four years ago, however it lasted less than a year.
“I was the president (Store Bay reef tour operators association) then. It didn’t work, the system then was flawed in a couple ways. The biggest way it was flawed, people was saying that my boat was too big and had to take too much passengers because at no time I was going to get my quota. My boat takes up to 100 persons, they reduced the licence to 80 while the smaller boats were taking 40 and 50 passengers. So, they were saying that if I was to take my quota, the other boats won’t make a trip and that created a problem, as they wanted me to take the same number of passengers as them. "So, they were getting their full quota and I had to reduce to take the same quota like them although I was bigger, and I found that very unfair and I pulled out which cause the organisation at that time to mash up.”
Dexter Black, another tour operator commended the reef tour operators for their co-operation. He is confident the initiative will work this time around.
Black said,“I feel strongly about good service and customer expectation… Previously, you had ten different people going on the trip and three pay one price, three pay another price and one pay another… you couldn’t be happy knowing that. So, we are addressing these issues at this time, we’re levelling the playing field.
“I think it would work this time around; the boat owners wanted it more than ever especially as it addresses the issue of touting, but once we agreed, it was easy for everybody to fall in line.”