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Decline in arrivals,

Published: 
Thursday, September 13, 2018
CEO of the Trinidad Hotels
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Brian Frontin Photo by:SHIRLEY BAHADUR

Brian Frontin, CEO of the Trinidad Hotels, Restaurant and Tourism Association, says T&T’s tourism industry is suffering and it is time for the Government to take action.

He said the industry has been in decline for several years and the Government has stood idly by while the tourist arrivals have plummeted and hotels are on the brink of closure.

He referred to the decline in visitor arrivals in the 2017 and 2018 Carnival seasons based on data from the Central Statistical Organisation (CSO).

A Planning Ministry release on that data stated:

“The total visitor arrivals to T&T were 33,873 persons, with Trinidad recording 31,877 and Tobago 1,996 for the period under review. When compared with the Carnival period for 2017—February 10 to 28—data showed a 3,575 or 9.5 per cent decrease in visitor arrivals to T&T.”

Frontin said this information is consistent with information his association has been tracking over the last two to three years.

“There has been a continuous decline in our international arrival activity to T&T and those lowered international arrivals have had a debilitating impact both on hotel occupancy and the entire tourism industry,” he said.

“Reduced visitors means reduced foreign exchange earnings. It means less occupancy of hotel rooms and therefore less taxation paid by hotels to the Government. The knock on effects affect all parties concerned.”

According to Frontin, one of the main reasons for the decline in arrivals to T&T is the closure of the Trinidad Development Company (TDC) and the non operationalisation of the Tourism Trinidad Ltd Company (TTL). Although the TTL was incorporated in June 2017 and a board was appointed last October, almost one year later no management personnel have been hired and a tourism programme for the country has not been executed.

“It leads you to believe that there was never really a plan to have it revamped, revised or considered, as if you close the entire tourist board along with cancelling international contracts and nothing to replace it with,” he said.

Frontin said that the Tourism Ministry’s cessation of international overseas marketing representation in October 2016 has also hurt the industry.

“In all our key markets like the United States, Canada, UK and the Scandinavian countries, we had a public relations or advertising firm in those countries promoting T&T—the best way that those persons deemed fit as they are familiar with those markets.

“Their contracts were brought to an end in October 2016 and now, in 2018, there have been no replacements. So the international travelling public no longer knows of T&T as a traveling destination.”

Lack of communication

Frontin said the association communicated their concerns to the Ministry of Tourism on more than one occasion but there has been no response.

“For 2018 there were three occasions that we wrote them. We issued a review of the tourism industry based on the data presented to us in February 2018, the Ministry of Tourism received a copy as well as the wider public and media.

“In May 2018 we wrote the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Tourism with a series of concerns related to these matters and again no response. We also followed up in August 2018 with additional concerns and asked for a response to our consistent request for information.”

Although there has been no response from the Ministry of Tourism, Frontin is optimistic that there will be communication in the future.

He said the issues to be addressed include funds allocated to the tourism sector for this fiscal year, the delay in setting up the TTL and how hotels’ tax contributions are being spent.

Hotels affected

Frontin said the association has received negative feedback from member hotels on the tourism sector’s decline and the “worrying development” of many smaller properties are signaling the possibility of closure.

“There is not enough international arrival activity for them to have a degree of occupancy that allows them to stay open. There is also the impact of the unregulated Airbnb and other shared economy models for accommodation,” he said.

“These do not subscribe to the T&T Bureau of Standards regulations and they are not contributing tax dollars to the actual economy. That unfair advantage also hurts the smaller properties who directly compete with these shared home arrangements.”

He added that local hoteliers have been playing their part with their contribution to the economy, so the Government has no reason to cut allocations to the sector.

“We are clear that our hoteliers contribute over $50 to $60 million annually in hotel tax contributions which is 10 per cent of their room revenue. This is in addition to corporation tax of 25 per cent. It is a unique tax structure which only applies to hotels and guest houses with over six rooms and if our contributions are $60 million annually then there is no basis for marketing money being cut,” Frontin said.

Budget cuts

There has been a marked reduction in the budgetary allocation by the Ministry of Finance to the Ministry of Tourism for marketing. The figure fell from $50 million in 2015 to $33 million in 2016.

“In 2017, the Ministry of Tourism was even incapable of spending the $19 million it was provided and only spent $8.5 million. For fiscal year 2018, a $19 million amount was allocated and we have had absolute silence on how much was spent for Trinidad, what has been spent on and what has been the success of the expenditure to date,” Frontin said.

He said the Government has justified the cuts in allocation to tourism by claiming the economy is doing poorly. However, he argues that money spent in the sector is an investment which leads to returns in the future.

Frontin warned the harmful effects from the Government’s budget cuts will result in less tourists visiting the country.

“There is an old adage, out of sight, out of mind. Literally, the more that you are absent from the travelling population internationally and on social media, it is the less that people consider your destination as an option,” he said.

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