Chairman of the Eric Williams Memorial Committee Reginald Vidale is calling for an inter-regional ferry service to help stimulate tourism in Tobago. TT is set to welcome two new fast ferries – the Buccoo Reef and APT James – to the seabridge within the next few months to supplement the TT Spirit, Galleons Passage and Jean de La Valette.
Vidale proposed using one of the existing vessels as a ferry between Tobago and Grenada to jump-start economic activity.
He said stakeholders in Tobago need to be creative and stop depending on the Government to come up with solutions.
"Tourism in Tobago is not going to resurrect itself any time soon. It will take time until the island gets back on its feet. We hear people talking about a lack in tourism and that tourism is dead, but what is being done to indicate new ideas so that Tobago's tourism could work?
"We already don't know how long covid19 would stay with us. We don't even understand what's happening. But we still need to try and put things in place so that we could lift the concept of tourism on the island."
TT's international borders are still closed and travel within Caricom is restricted to those countries where covid19 is under some measure of control. The Caricom "bubble" went into effect last month and includes Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Dominica, Grenada, Montserrat, St Kitts and Nevis, St Lucia and St Vincent and the Grenadines.
The Prime Minister recently announced that TT must get its rate of covid19 infection down to approximately 20 per day.
Vidale said plans must be put in place now to ensure tourism isn't stagnant when borders reopen.
"The country is about to get two new fast-ferry vessels and at this time there are three ferries in active use. My idea is that when these two boats are acquired, what are they going to do with the Spirit? The Jean de La Valette is on lease and that lease would be up (soon), and it would go back to where it came from.
"In order to assist Tobago's tourism drive, I am suggesting the pilot project be started between Tobago and Grenada which will assist in lifting Tobago's tourism to the point where it would be more than what is happening now."
Vidale said the TT Spirit should be used for the pilot project. He said tourists visiting Grenada who are interested in seeing another island can come across on the boat for a few days and TT citizens can spend a weekend vacation in Grenada.
"What would happen is that the ferry would leave Tobago and go Grenada twice a week and bring people to Tobago, and they can come with their cars from Grenada and go to the various hotels in Tobago, which they can book from Grenada. There would be an arrangement between the islands.
"Grenada has opened its borders to tourism while observing all protocols, and Tobago can do the same. We can send a medical team to Grenada to ensure the people coming are covid19-free. That's a structure that could be put in place.
"The important thing is to try and give Tobago that jump-start. We have the boats that can be used for that purpose. It will already be cheaper to come by boat than by plane, and the ferry has a bigger capacity than on a Caribbean Airlines flight."
Vidale said domestic tourism will not be sufficient to keep the tourism industry afloat.
"Tobago needs this because all the hotels on the island are almost closed. I think this inter-regional ferry service will make Tobago thrive."
He said he brought the idea to members of the Tobago House of Assembly.
Vidale said the Government should set up a committee to discuss logistics.
"We have the infrastructure. All we need to do is have a bilateral agreement with Grenada and a pilot project to start it. Tobago can't continue to sit back and depend on Trinidad domestic tourism."