Trinidad and Tobago Chamber of Industry and Commerce • www.chamber.org.tt
Can Tobago be a Sustainability Model? By Kelly Ann Phillips
n order for an economy to achieve sustainable development, the three pillars of sustainability must be adequately addressed i.e. the economic, social and environmental pillars. Due to their inherent reliance on environmental persistence and social stability, economies which thrive on sustainable forms of tourism such as ecological tourism, are good candidates for achieving sustainability. In the case of Tobago economy, while there is work to be done to optimise the social and environmental pillars, this article will discuss possible strategies which can serve to optimise the economic sustainability of the Tobago tourism product. Organise the Sector Stakeholders A major vessel in the tourism space for capturing value is the group of MSMEs which operate in the various parts of the sector. In particular to the various small scale operators such as taxi drivers, tour guides, transport rental companies and bed and breakfast inns which heavily influence the tourist experience and perception of the destination. Establishing a registry of these actors can provide information on how many operators there are, what services they provide and where gaps lie. Such information can be very useful in formulating policy for the sector, with a view to maximising tourist spend. Beyond this, the registry could be leveraged to commit the tourist dollar to our coffers even before arrival, by making operator profiles publicly accessible online and facilitating online pre-payment for services. Exploit Inter-Sectoral Linkages According to a 2015 FAO report, the CARICOM food import bill is in excess of USD 4 billion annually, representing a 50% increase since 2000. According to the same report, Trinidad and Tobago alone imported just under USD 1 billion of agricultural products. Using data concerning the constitution of the import bill as well as the production capacity of the local farming population, agribusiness associations and other sector organisations which aggregate local agriculture smallholders can play a role in abating this billion dollar haemorrhage. These associations may be well
positioned to connect with large hoteliers, restaurants and other tourism sector actors who default to international supply chains. Effective arrangements in this regard can serve to retain foreign exchange while enhancing the livelihood of our agri-sector actors and sustainably growing the economy. These benefits however can only be realised by first formalising agri-tourism linkages, organising the agriculture sector and preparing all stakeholders appropriately. If procurement agreements are not bolstered by supporting implementation modalities and transparent achievement metrics, our SMEs will be sidestepped and we will have missed the opportunity to capture the value presented. To illustrate this point, consider the case of the Marriott Hotel operating in St. Kitts. In 2007, the St. Kitts Farmers’ Cooperative Society Ltd and the Marriott Resort, signed a Memorandum of Understanding for local farmers to supply fruits and vegetables to the hotel. The MoU marked a signal success for the Kittitian government and was foreseen to improve the livelihood of farmers and decrease the importation of fruits and vegetables. Unfortunately however, the agreement did not yield the benefits anticipated due to breakdowns in arrangements along the supply chain, the effect of which was that Marriott significantly continued to use their former suppliers, notwithstanding the MoU. Leverage Past Experiences Trinidad and Tobago has accumulated veteran experience in leveraging foreign direct investment for economic development, as we have successfully established our energy sector based on this strategy. The current initiative by the Government to stimulate non-energy activity by engaging with the Sandals Hotel, should therefore be viewed as another instance of this strategy and thus, this vast experience should be brought to bear on negotiations and contracting. We are well positioned to foresee and capture the opportunities as well as to anticipate and avoid the pitfalls. For example, one of the promises of the energy sector’s development strategy was that our local human resources would be the beneficiaries of international knowledge transfer; that we would learn the “tricks of the trade” such that we would eventually be able to self-manage the commercialisation of the sector. Although we have several sterling examples of home grown world class energy experts such as Eric Williams, Professor Ken Julien and Anthony Paul, the issue of transfer pricing between multinational parent and local subsidiary companies has also affected our energy sector. As such, building upon the energy experience, we are now better equipped to negotiate an even better deal for the tourism sector in Tobago in terms of effective knowledge transfer arrangements, more transparent booking and reporting of revenue, and the achievement of local procurement intentions. In summary, the posit is that for the Tobago product offer to bring greater economic returns, there could be a greater focus on optimising the value-capture of the sector. We must identify our vessels for value capture – whether they be individual professionals, businesses or the State – and strategise such that those receptacles indeed capture and retain the maximum value created by the tourism economy.