Leader of the Opposition, Godwin Friday, says that the Ministry of Tourism is failing to meet its own targets notwithstanding its critical importance to the development of the country, especially as it related to generating foreign exchange.
In debating the Estimates of Income and Expenditure for 2017 on Monday, Friday told Parliament that in terms of jobs, the nation looks to the tourism sector to employ the youth and those moving out of other areas of the economy, such as agriculture.
But in the tourism sector, the government continues to fail the objectives of the ministry and the economy, Friday said.
He told Parliament that the result indicators suggest that the ministry would work with public relations agencies to host at least 21 familiarisation trips in 2016.
As part of these familiarisation trips, the Ministry of Tourism brings international airlines, travel agents, tour operators, travel writers and special interest groups to St. Vincent in an effort to promote the country as a tourist destination.
Friday said anyone involved in tourism would know this is a critical area, yet in actuality, only four of the 21 trips the ministry scheduled for last year took place.
Another result indicator suggested that the ministry would work with public relations to host six production shoots to showcase SVG in the print and electronic media and update promotional material.
Two of these shoots were to be done in the United States, one in Canada, two in the United Kingdom and Europe and one in the Caribbean.
“These are what they put there; these are put there by the minister himself,” Friday said, adding,
“The actual number that was done was absolutely zero.”
Friday said the Ministry of Tourism was to develop 19 attractive niche market packages, including six romance packages, six yachting and charter packages, six diving and snorkelling packages, three eco-adventures and three general.
‘The number that was actually done in 2016 was one,” he said. “Now, why is this happening when we acknowledge that this is a very important industry and that we actually are starting out of the gate later than other destinations in the Caribbean and our product, our industry is a lot smaller than theirs and we have a lot of room to grow?” Friday said.
“Yet, of 24 packages, only one was done,” Friday said, adding that the situation was no different from last year, adding that this is what was so sad about it.
“Last year, we had a similar result, where, of all the packages that were intended, very few of them were competed.”
Friday says the government talks about tourism and the completion of the Argyle International Airport and how when that is done, “that suddenly, there is going to be this rush of people coming in to St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
“To take advantage of what? Of our airport? People come here because you market it. Because you have an international airport, that makes it easier, but if you don’t do the groundwork to actually market St. Vincent and the Grenadines, we are not going to derive the benefits of that project that you intend.”
Friday said that over the past several years, the government puts in the estimates a figure that looks “impressive”.
To illustrate, he said that in the 2013 Estimates, EC$13 million was allocated to be transferred to the Tourism Authority but the actual amount transferred was EC$3.8 million.
“I don’t even know if that can pay staff,” Friday said.
He further told lawmakers that in 2014, EC$12 million was allocated but only EC$5.5 million was transferred.
“That’s less than half. How can they possibly do the work intended?” he said.
In 2015, the sum allocated was EC$12 million, but only EC$4 million was transferred.
“So this is no aberration. This is a practice. This is a pattern… So we see over that period, 2013, 2014, 2015, a total amount of 37 million allocated to the Tourism Authority to promote tourism and that sounds like an impressive figure, but the actual amount spent by the tourism authority during that period was 13.3 million, just under 36 per cent.
“So, it is no wonder, Mr. Speaker that you have in the result indicator, where you have to do familiarisation tours. Where you have to do video shoots, where you have joint ventures to create niche marketing — 19 attractive niche marketing packages but none of it done because the authority which is responsible for doing that is basically just getting a stipend to maintain its operations, that’s what is seems…” Friday said.
The Estimates were approved late Monday night, paving the way for the debate of the Budget next Monday.