Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Another setback for Tobago

Express editorial logo365

Mark Fraser

 Tobago tourism received another jolt with the news that Virgin Atlantic, the airline which brings 25 per cent of the island’s visitors, will stop flying there from the end of this month.

Though the Tobago House of Assembly (THA) has scrambled to get British Airways and Monarch Airlines to make up the shortfall threatened by the Virgin pull-out, Tobago business people remained justifiably disheartened.

Describing it as a “very serious and ominous development” for the island, the Tobago Division of the Chamber of Industry and Commerce has noted the “fragile state” of tourism, which it described as “spiralling downward for quite some time”.

The Virgin fly-out only confirms Tobago tourism’s continuing need for attention and succour.

Virgin’s high-end passengers have apparently been dissatisfied with the absence at ANR International Airport of first-class lounges among other facilities. As the Chamber points out, however, the island also suffers from an insufficiency of quality accommodation.

Though the voting went massively in favour of the People’s National Movement in the 2013 THA elections, Tobago MPs in the T&T Government should be endeavouring to gain a higher profile for the needs of the island’s main or only industry.

The tourism rescue effort now needed must not only save jobs and stop revenue losses but also maintain the island’s international image as an especially desirable destination.

Upgrade of its airport facilities appears to be the urgent first step in promoting Tobago as a place to visit, and in preserving or building a viable economy.

But, as is the norm, the stable will be closed after the horse has bolted.

Improvement work on Tobago’s airport has been touted for some time, but not a brick was laid and nothing constructive done to appease Virgin Atlantic officials and, instead, Caribbean neighbours like Barbados will take up the passenger load that has been diverted from the sister island.

Instead of ensuring that work started in a timely fashion, Minister of Transport Stephen Cadiz is now proclaiming that when the upgrade at ANR International is completed Virgin Atlantic will be invited to resume its service to Tobago. 

“We take what (Virgin) is saying and will do whatever we can to ensure ANR International is in good repair and secure. Yes, we want them back,” he proclaimed.

But if the matter was a high priority one the airport would have been improved long ago and we would not be going cap in hand requesting Virgin Atlantic to return to the route.

The Chamber’s Tobago Division put it very bluntly and it is to be hoped that the right people are taking note.

“The Tobago Division does not believe that adequate attention is being paid by the Government to Tobago’s tourism product, which remains the island’s economic mainstay... This pull-out by Virgin will result in not only a loss of revenue and jobs, but also a deterioration of Tobago’s international image. We urge the authorities to act with haste on this matter,” it stated.

Before another mortal blow is delivered to Tobago, the necessary corrective action has to be taken right away.