Boosting the Tobago economy
The Trinidad and Tobago Chamber of Industry and Commerce is pleased to note the Prime Minister's recent announcement that Cabinet has approved the establishment of a $250 million Tourism Development Fund for Tobago over 2013 to 2015, aimed at providing resources for two major areas affecting businesses on the island, namely, debt restructuring for tourism related businesses, and upgrade and maintenance of hotels having below 50 rooms.
The Chamber, guided by our Tobago Division, and in concert with the Tobago Hotel and Tourism Association, has been a key driver in proposing a debt restructuring plan, aimed at businesses which would be viable, save for experiencing cash flow difficulties due to the slowdown of activity in the tourism sector in Tobago. We believe that the effort by the government to address the Tobago economy at this critical juncture is long overdue. This plan was presented to central government, the Tobago House of Assembly and other key stakeholders at several meetings during 2010 and 2011. It was a culmination of approximately four years of dedicated work and determination to see it to fruition.
We have always stressed, that the injection of the money into Tobago's cash-strapped businesses is paramount and urgent. Consequently, with this new development, steps must now be taken to accelerate the process, so that businesses can take advantage of the windows of opportunity which may open from the initiatives announced by the Prime Minister. The Chamber looks forward to continuing to work with central government, the Bankers Association and the THA in order to fulfill our mandate with regards to ensuring the economic survival and viability of Tobago businesses.
The very survival of the Tobago economy rests with a well-functioning tourism industry, and we therefore welcome the other proposals for boosting tourism in Tobago. These include Tobago as a duty free economic zone for shopping, and construction of additional hotel rooms and first-class marinas. These initiatives certainly seem to have the potential for significant impact on the development and modernisation of the island's tourism product, as well as the creation of much-needed sustainable employment on the island
We however recognise that these initiatives may require further research and consultation in order to gauge accurately the net economic benefits to be realised from the proposed projects. Recent statements by the THA's Finance Secretary demonstrate that the most desirable approach is to achieve full stakeholder collaboration and buy-in. This will certainly go a long way to ensuring the success of any project being contemplated.
Some commitments must also be made regarding the time frame for implementation of the proposals. The Chamber reiterates its readiness to assist, in any way possible, to move these projects from discussion to realisation, once it has been reasonably demonstrated that the proposals are economically sound.
Yet, we note with concern, that no fully developed, holistic economic plan for Tobago has been developed. The Chamber strongly believes that in order to reap the fruits of these - or any - initiatives, an overall economic development plan for the island must be developed based on careful research, stakeholder input and with goals and timelines clearly defined. This is imperative if we are to attract investors wishing to participate in our development drive.
The arrival of the energy industry to Tobago is imminent with the announcement that Centrica Energy is in discussions with the Ministry of Energy over the commercialisation of gas off the north-east coast of Tobago. Since this could represent the largest investment in the island's history, it is expected that numerous business opportunities will in due course emanate from this activity. There is still some time before this is activated, and we hope that central government and the THA will collaborate in ensuring that residents of Tobago are sensitised, and offered the necessary technical and artisan training to equip them to take advantage of new business and employment opportunities.
The Chamber will certainly play its part by continuing our collaboration with the THTA and similar business representative organisations in order to widen ownership and strengthen our lobby. We are positive that Tobago can continue to build on this renewed momentum for a prosperous economy. We reconfirm our commitment to be part of any process that will be to the benefit to the island's business sector and indeed, all Tobagonians.