PROGRESSIVE Democratic Patriots (PDP) political leader Watson Duke has called for urgent tourism-sector reform in Tobago.
He is also questioning the criteria used by Wanderlust Travel Magazine to assess the world’s tourism destinations.
This follows the news that the island has slipped from second to third place in Wanderlust’s rankings of the most desirable islands in the world. Cuba and Taiwan placed first and second.
The award ceremony, held on November 7 at the British Museum, was one of the highlights of the World Travel Market (WTM). The international trade show was held from November 6-8 at the ExCel London Exhibition and Convention Centre, London.
The Wanderlust Reader Travel Awards has celebrated the best in travel for 22 years and shines a spotlight on the travel industry’s greatest stars.
In a post on his Facebook page on Friday, Duke said, “This decline in ranking and alarms about Tobago’s unclear tourism product raises serious concerns about the authenticity of Wanderlust’s evaluation process and the state of Tobago’s tourism infrastructure.”
He noted the Division of Tourism, Culture, Antiquities and Transportation, which is the primary institution for carrying out the assembly’s tourism responsibilities, oversees entities such as the Pigeon Point Heritage Park Ltd, Tobago Festivals Commission Ltd, and the Tobago Tourism Agency Ltd.
“However, despite this extensive structure, Tobago’s failure to improve key tourism infrastructure casts doubt on the value of Wanderlust’s assessment criteria results.
“Even as one may appreciate positive ratings internationally, we must be practical and realistic since the downgrade from silver to bronze challenges the island’s status as a premier tourism destination and raises questions about its future evaluations.” Duke said while Chief Secretary Farley Augustine’s remarks at the WTM underscored the importance of Tobago’s presence at such global forums, “The PDP emphasises that participation alone is insufficient in the face of a lacking holistic plan for Tobago’s tourism product.”
He added, “The stagnation in Tobago’s tourism sector, evidenced by a lack of growth in accommodation facilities and upgrades to tourist destinations, reflects a critical mismanagement of resources.”
He said this was exacerbated by the underutilisation of major cultural events like the Tobago Carnival and the Heritage Festival and inadequate attention to Tobago’s “antiquities and transportation infrastructure.”
In light of Wanderlust’s upcoming visit in December for an editorial on Tobago’s tourism, Duke said, the PDP insists on a comprehensive and authentic evaluation of the island’s tourism sector.
“This visit represents a crucial chance for an immediate in-depth review of Tobago’s tourism offerings and infrastructure.”
The Roxborough/Argyle assemblyman claimed despite the significant funding pumped into the sector, there have been no notable improvements in key areas such as restroom facilities or access to tourist sites.
He said, “The stagnation at 2,000 available rooms, absence of new hotel construction and the unoccupied, refurbished Speyside Manta Lodge hotel, which cost an exorbitant $25 million, are symptomatic of misaligned priorities and inefficient resource utilisation.
“If transparency is important to the THA, then the expenditure due to such high-handed usage of taxpayers’ monies should be quickly shared and justified to the public.”
Duke believes Tobago’s tourism sector is falling behind, particularly when compared to other islands in the Caribbean, which are investing heavily in marketing and development.
“This regression is an embarrassment and stain on destination Tobago. The stagnation in Tobago’s tourism product needs to serve as a wake-up call for a thorough re-evaluation and revitalisation of Tobago’s approach to tourism, ensuring that investments yield tangible improvements and sustainable growth.
“The PDP urges the responsible authorities to take immediate and decisive action to rectify these shortcomings. The future of Tobago’s tourism and its international reputation hinge on our ability to provide a world-class experience to visitors, supported by robust infrastructure and a genuine commitment to excellence.”