A DRAFT Tobago medium-term policy framework, from a team chaired by economist Dr Terrence Farrell, has recommended the establishment of up to three all-inclusive resorts as one of its key initiatives to drive Tobago’s development in the next four years.
Farrell, who was the chairman of the Economic Development Advisory Board from October 2015 to January 2018, provided details of Tobago’s Medium-Term Policy Planning Framework 2019 to 2023 in an address to the 13th annual Tobago Economic and Business Outlook Conference held yesterday at the Magdalena Hotel in Lowlands.
Farrell said when the Sandals all-inclusive resort project was still on the table, Tobago House of Assembly Secretary for Finance, Joel Jack “had the foresight to ask us to assess if the Sandals project were to come to Tobago, how could we maximise the potential benefits it being here.”
The team comprised Farrell, Auliana Poon, Lance Busby, Brian Pollard and Timothy Mooleedar.
In a Power Point presentation at the conference, Farrell said: “All inclusives have downsides but, critically, do have the ability to drive visitor numbers.
“We estimate that three internationally branded all-inclusive resorts totalling 1,800 four-and-five-star rooms could deliver 250,000 visitors annually within five years.
“With a similar number of internal (Trinidad and Caribbean) visitors, Tobago could attract 500,000 visitors, almost ten times the resident population.”
He said the establishment of the three all-inclusive resorts in Tobago could catalyse the agriculture sector in Tobago through the production of food of the required quality for visitors (including eggs, chicken, vegetables), tourism-related infrastructure such as the airport terminal and roads as well as tourism-related services such as heritage site development, entertainment, festivals and events.
He said the three all-inclusive resorts would also drive other kinds of tourism in Tobago such as eco-tourism and medical tourism.
Avoid white elephant
On the issue of the proposed, new airport terminal at Crown Point in Tobago, Farrell told the conference: “If you build an airport without having the throughput of visitors, you are building a white elephant. You might as well keep what you have. The two things must go hand in hand. There is no point Tobago building a new, first class state-of-the-art terminal to serve the existing tourist traffic. You have to build the resorts, bring the traffic and then that airport project is going to make sense.”
Questioned on whether the plan envisaged the three all-inclusive resorts being owned by the central government or by the THA, Farrell said: “The answer is neither the central government nor the government in Tobago. The resorts would be owned by the foreign investors. There is no reason in my view for governments to be involved in certain kinds of activities.
“The resorts should be taxed fairly...and provided with the normal kinds of incentives like a tax holiday for a couple of years.
Another recommendation of the draft medium-term policy framework was the institution of physical development planning and control to preserve Tobago’s fragile ecosystem and ensure environmental sustainability.
“I cannot emphasise how important this is. Tobago has to take charge of its physical planning. The word control inside of there is extremely important.
“If people build something in a place that is not designated for that use, the planning authorities must have the authority in law to knock it down, as they do in other countries. In England, they put up a notice on your door, which says we will demolish your property in seven days. That’s what we need.”
Among the key objectives identified in the draft plan, Farrell said, include: to create jobs and shift employment away from the THA to the private sector; to improve productivity for appropriate infrastructure development; build capacity in the public sector; to improve food and energy security; restore growth and diversification and promote environmental sustainability.