THA Minority Leader Kelvon Morris is calling on Chief Secretary Farley Augustine to urgently review the role of Secretary of Tourism, Culture, Antiquities and Transportation Tashia Burris after last weekend’s incident in which the pre-booked tours for 300 cruise-ship passengers were cancelled.
The passengers had arrived on board the Celebrity Silhouette cruise ship.
Morris fears the incident could cause Tobago to be blacklisted as a tourist destination.
At a news conference on Thursday at his office in Scarborough, Morris read a letter purportedly written to Burris by the Port Maxi and Taxis Federation of Association on October 27, 2022.
In the letter, Morris said, the association had expressed concerns about a possible shortage of maxis and buses to transport tourists during the 2022-2023 cruise ship season.
He said the association’s president at the time wrote that almost 100 per cent of buses and maxi taxis were contracted to the THA’s education schools service initiative.
As a result, the president said, only a few maxi taxis were available to fulfil the transport needs of the cruise liners. The association, Morris said, had called for an urgent meeting with Burris and other stakeholders to address what it saw as a “major transportation problem.”
The Darrel Spring/Whim assemblyman said, “So we have a situation where the stakeholders are asking the person who has ultimate responsibility for policy, direction and control of the tourism sector in one of the major subsets of the tourism industry, that being cruises.
“Yet while the alarm bells were ringing, the secretary of tourism failed to address this issue that led to not only an embarrassment on the tourism sector but all of Tobago, and more importantly a situation that now has the potential to cause this island to be blacklisted.”
He complained about Burris’ decision to travel to Jamaica for an Inter-American Development Bank Study Tour, days after attending the World Travel Market in London.
“So Rome is burning here in Tobago but this secretary is enjoying the luxuries of air miles while our tourism industry, which is the lifeblood of Tobago, is burning, crashing, falling and is in absolute chaos.”
Morris called on Burris to say if she had received a copy of the letter and if any action had been taken.
He said last weekend’s incident had far-reaching implications for the island.
“If this incident leads to Tobago being blacklisted, it means that hundreds of Tobagonians, hundreds of families will now be on the breadline, all because we had a secretary who failed to take action when action was necessary.”
Morris also called on Augustine to act.
“I am calling on him to review, as he did promise, not only the secretary of tourism…but at this point we are one year later from his promised reshuffle and I am saying to the chief secretary, if any time your executive council needed a reshuffle, that time is now.
“So, chief secretary, you have the evidence, you have a secretary underperforming, failing to do her due diligence to a point that led to a most embarrassing situation.”
The Division of Tourism, in a release earlier this week, apologised to all the passengers and stakeholders affected by the cancellations.
It described the incident as regrettable, but said it provided an opportunity for the various transport providers and other stakeholders to review their systems to provide the best possible service as the industry grows.