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Elingford Roban

Elingford Roban, statistician at the SVG Tourism Authority. (Photo: Facebook)

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A statistician at the St. Vincent and the Grenadines Tourism Authority (SVGTA) has been suspended for two weeks, without pay, for raising, on social media, concerns about the performance of the state agency to which millions of taxpayer dollars are allocated annually.

“Every year, I’m seeing fancy conferences, ceremonies and cocktails but can someone please explain to me what the St. Vincent and the Grenadines Tourism Authority has done/is really doing for tourism in St. Vincent and the Grenadines after over 10 years in existence?” Elingford Roban asked his Facebook followers in a post on Tuesday.

He said on Hot97, on Thursday, that he suspects that there are similar feelings among his colleagues.

“I suspect many of them share my sentiment, however, they were afraid to speak. Because, I mean, basically, this is what you’re told: ‘You get your salary at the end of every month, and you should be content with that.’”

Roban illustrated his Facebook post with a photo of publicly-available statistics from the Eastern Caribbean Central Bank and said:

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“Find a year, any year in which the ‘total stay-over visitors’ (also call tourists) number exceeds that of 2006 (almost 15 years ago mind you)”.

He noted that the SVGTA, as an entity separate from the Ministry of Tourism, has existed since 2009 and that the Argyle International Airport opened in 2017, the same year that scheduled direct international flights to SVG began.

Roban noted that while total visitor numbers in 2019 were 31.8% higher than in 2006, visitor expenditure had increased by only 4.1% in the same period.

At the same time, from 2005 to 2019 the GDP of the United States — the major source market of St. Vincent and the Grenadines — expanded by over 64%.

In a later post, also on Tuesday, Roban said that the SVGTA received EC$17 million from the government in 2019 “but yet St. Vincent and the Grenadines barely has a web presence as a tourist destination apart from a company founded in Australia selling ‘Vincentian’ cooking lessons!”

In a post Wednesday morning, Roban said, “…apparently I’m now suspended without pay for simply sharing factual information readily available to anyone in the world on my Facebook page.”

In a call with Hot97 FM on Thursday, Roban said his motivation for the post began a few years ago, when a staff meeting was called on the first work day of the New Year.

“And the essence of this meeting was to remind everyone who was in charge. And when decisions come down from the top, nobody questions it because the buck stops there,” Roban said.

“And I was like, I can’t understand what his attitude is about and in such a major, important institution that is responsible for marketing St. Vincent and the Grenadines as a tourist destination, you want to tell me, nobody else in the institution can contribute towards important decision-making?” he told the radio station.

Svg Tourism Stats
Eastern Caribbean Central Bank statistics on tourism in St. Vincent and the Grenadines.

He said that in an informal meeting, a senior member of staff had also pointed out the fact that the country’s tourism figures had not exceeded the 2006 high.

“And she was shut down. And I was like, ‘Why would someone who was responsible for getting the numbers higher and higher every year shut down something like this, which, you know, factual, is not something made up?’”

Roban said that exchange “just stuck with me” and through further conversation with the senior staff who had raised the issue, he concluded that St. Vincent and the Grenadines “has “no competitive positioning as a country, as an international tourist destination.

“You know, like, for instance, you could say, ‘Boy, we have to go to Trinidad, because Trinidad has the best Carnival in the world’, or, ‘We have to go to Dominica because they have the best eco product in the world.

“But St. Vincent has no competitive position. It’s like we are trying to be the jack-of-all-trades but we have no niche, no reputation, no global reputation.”

Roban said that in another meeting, he said that he could not see the value that the SVGTA was adding, given the funding it received annually.

“And I was shut down. I was told, ‘You’re pissing me off right now, please get out of my office’ — basically, to paraphrase.”

Roban said he was “kind of frustrated” and that prompted him to make the Facebook posts, although he said “the average Vincentian” does not go out of their way to really pay attention to statistics.

He said he was aware that his post could cost him his job.

“I don’t mind. Someone has to stand up. Someone has to say something. Because if you’re telling me after 12 years, receiving monies every year from the government to promote St. Vincent and the Grenadines, we are still receiving the same visitor expenditure pretty much after 15 years? What value has this institution added?”

He said that the government’s main tourism website — www.discoversvg.com — is offline and “it was practically useless” before it was taken down.

“I don’t think it is harsh to criticise. I think a lot more can be done.  I distinctly recall one time we were shown a video that was done with some bouncing balls or something of that sort.

“And after viewing it and we were told that it cost something close to $1 million. We were taken aback. And to this day, I’ve never seen the video aired or anything like that. And I would imagine, there is more than one instance of things of this nature,” Roban said.

“I looked at the video and I had no clue what whatever the purpose of it was for.”

Asked who produced the video, Roban said, “I can’t call any names.”

Discover Svg Site
The official SVG tourism website is offline.

Regarding his suggestion for marketing SVG, Roban said:

“The first thing I would say is we have no strategic position. We have no unique selling proposition… You must have a unique selling proposition. You must set yourself apart from Barbados, Grenada, St. Lucia, and Trinidad. There must be a reason why tourists are drawn here.”

He said that there is a problem with cruise ship visitors, the first of which is that a lot of them do not disembark.

“Secondly, the average spend is very low. And that’s another issue that I have. There haven’t been strategies devised to increase the average tourist spend. And that has shown up in the numbers.

“Because if you estimate a 31% increase in the total number of visitors but only a 4% increase in visitor expenditure, it means that the average visitor expenditure has decreased.”

He said that SVGTA staff members go to conferences “and you just hear a lot of useless verbiage at these at these conferences… But at the end of the day, nothing — the average man on the street, the average taxi man, the vendor and so on.”

He said that he does not see “the upper levels of these people” making contact with “the average man.

“Like they are so aloof, you come to work when you feel like, you come through the back, you go into your fancy office, you leave when you want to and you make no contact with the average man.

“I never once heard them go and ask — because you know, those vendors up close to the cruise ship berth, you can go and ask these people what can we do, how can we help you to create a better, more aesthetically pleasing thing and so forth?

“How can we help you with your products and so forth, in a bid to get tourists to spend more money and make them more attractive to draw tourists? Simple things that won’t cost a lot of money,” Roban said.

He further said that a lot of projects that, for which the funding does not specify overseas contractors, are not given to Vincentian service providers.

Roban said that after the post he was suspended by phone.

He said that he expected that he would have been suspended because of the post and he has since emailed the SVGTA asking for a written notice as well as the grounds for his suspension.

Roban, however, said that he did not disclose in the posts any information obtained exclusively as a consequence of his employment at the SVGTA.

He said that he does not think that the SVGTA has grounds on which to dismiss him.

“You have prescriptions in the labour laws so if you don’t want me back there then you just follow those,” Roban said.

“I love my country. I think we deserve a lot better than we are getting now,” he further said of his motivation…

“You are representing a body that is responsible for promoting a sector of our country that accounts for 20% or even more even more of our GDP; you must give some sort of account. I mean- imagine if you had a for-profit organisation and you have a CEO running it for 12 years and your gross revenues are the same as when the CEO started, would you say that that is a success?” 

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46 replies on “Worker suspended over posts about Tourism Authority’s performance”

  1. Oh my Dear Lord! I haveve been saying this in FOREVER. The first time I saw the Tourism ministry, I was appalled. How can the face of the country be found in a literal cubby hole. The face of the country! No sah! Then I was introduced to a few of the workers, and I couldn’t for the life of me understand their portfolios, and what their purpose truly served. What was their contribution to making our product enviable? It’s practically the same thing in the ministries of Finance, Education and Foreign Affairs. Too much complacency, no true appreciation for the data on hand.

  2. I remember a few years ago I met with some tourists right across massy store and they bluntly said they have not seen anything so far maked, made in St. Vincent and the Grenadines. Everything marked made in China.

  3. “The Emperor’s New Clothes” is a literary folktale written by Danish author Hans Christian Andersen, about a vain emperor who gets exposed before his subjects.

  4. Great stance!

    Get yourself a lawyer and hold your ground. If the information was not privileged and could be readily obtained elsewhere, I too will like to know the grounds.

    IT IS TIME SOME ONE SPOKE OUT!

  5. I fully endorse this entire article. I have said this time and again, square pegs in round holes, they don’t interact with the guests, they don’t know what they want. After being a tour guide for over 16 years, a patriot for all my life, I know we can do better.

  6. As a vincentian living in the diaspora, I can understand his frustration. I have been saying for says now that even the government website is not up to par with other Caribbean countries or even normal business websites.

    Imagine trying to find information that is normal for any country’s govement information site and finding nothing but what the site is about. No relevant information for a citizen living overseas to find out information.

    What I have seen for years now is vincentians are not allowed to think for themselves, question the government or even offer suggestions. There must be checks and balances in any institution for it work and grow. If you can critique or offer suggestions for the growth then it will become stagnant and eventually fail.

    Hence why any good business person is always asking for suggestions from the customers and from their employees. They know what others says can help you boost their business. They sort through the suggestions and use the ones if any that are usable and discard what is not. It’s about creating an environment where everyone feels valued.

  7. Wow this is real stuff my brother please don’t allow them to silence you,the people of St. Vincent and the Grenadines and the country in a whole deserved better. Am so ashamed when ever I come home and I can’t even see something that really tells me yes this is St. Vincent,yes I know that am home but to the visitors you need something to stand out. The head of the SVGTA seems to have a problem with the truth. It’s clear that they’re very unproductive and really don’t know what they are doing.

  8. Avatar Of Nathan 'Jolly' GreenNathan 'Jolly' Green says:

    This article is far to long and repetative, all points could have been made in a third of the article.

    I read it all because that what I do, but normal readers would abandon this at least half way through.

    Attention span is very low in SVG.

  9. Avatar Of Monica A RosaMonica A Rosa says:

    You are wrong. You alone should not have voiced your opinion. What was right you should have get some of your colleagues who would have stood with you to voice your concern. Now you are in hot sauce. Next time do the opposite if they don’t fire you. Three or four is stronger than one.

  10. Avatar Of Randolph CatoRandolph Cato says:

    Let me declare upfront. My name is Randolph Cato. I have been a very senior level public official in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, since the mid 1980s , including being Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Tourism. I took up a senior level position at the OECS in 1997 until I retired at the end of 2013. ( That’s another story in itself). I say these things to establish some bona fides. The young man who is the subject of this story should be applauded for the sharpness and depth of his analysis and and conclusions, as well as his sheer guts and commitment in taking a stand. What he has indicated here demonstrates that comparatively speaking, SVG tourism is in a worse position than when I served as PS in the 1980s, when we worked hard to lay a foundation for Tourism. SVG, despite immense possibilities for both land based and marine tourism has lagged the region over the past 20 years. So Mr. Roban is right on point. I am sure that attempts are going to be made to further penalize him and I call on all right thinking Vincentians to rally in his corner!!

  11. I am looking forward to this discussion. Some thing for all the islands to consider.
    This is definitely a time to boost your marketing potential.

  12. Avatar Of Jeanie OllivierreJeanie Ollivierre says:

    Say it as it is my brother, let transparency, productivity & good governance be your watchword. Who don’t believe in those “TOO BAD FO DEM”!

  13. Avatar Of Urlan AlexanderUrlan Alexander says:

    Speak to truth my brother. You are brave and patriotic and for that I must thank you. For year’s now it has been made public that Glen Beache does not with the $20 000 or so he receives monthly. However his party card and the fact that his daddy is partly responsible for the brewing dictatorship that we have in SVG it seems that he is there for the long haul. I hope others in that ministry will stand out and stand up like you. The way things are going in SVG the support of your colleagues might be wishful thinking. Stand firm!

  14. Tell me someone we don’t know brave young man again information is hidden moniesssss are seem to disappear in Svg may I ask one question why can you not pay by card at any government building only Cash??? no paper trail there then????

  15. Avatar Of Constructive Solutions IncConstructive Solutions Inc says:

    Sheer Brilliance, a very through analysis and evaluation of our Tourism product and you go suspend instead of engage this young man to come up with innovative ways to improve performance, incompetent leadership… Bosses not managers, no wonder this country economic performance is rapidly sinking… No one likes to be told the truth once they figure they have power that was not earned…

  16. Well a lot of Vincentians eat the food the master given to them, so now they lost their senses and now they are controls as they are DUMB AND ROBATS LIKE

  17. You are more educated than a lot of fools who think they know it all..
    You braved the weather bcuz nobody wants to do it..
    And your end result is, you shouldn’t air dirty laundry.
    May God comfort you in speaking out loud !!

  18. Avatar Of Augustus EstonAugustus Eston says:

    Well well well I have publicly said on several occasions that the CEO of the St. Vincent and the Grenadine Tourism Authority is an incompetent man. He has no clue. The man is lost.

  19. Avatar Of Duke DearmentDuke DeArment says:

    Thank You for posting this Kenton. It is so important that we get information like this so that we can HOLD OUR GOVERNMENT ACCOUNTABLE. I like to compare SVG to the USA and then maybe to other places when cause and effect are opposite.
    In many places the people are allowed to critique the government. In SVG the government really hates it. They want us to believe their decisions are flawless and based on science, facts and doing the right thing.
    Anyone that dares to expose the contrary can expect a backlash!
    Consider that the government seems intent on forcing mass vaccination for tourism! To some of us, including myself because my family has a history of deaths from blood clotting it is as if I am being FORCED TO RISK MY LIFE FOR SVG TOURISM DOLLARS…BASED ON WHAT IS NOW WELL KNOWN TO BE MOSTLY FAKE NEWS AND FAKE SCIENCE ABOUT THE EFFECTS OF THE COVID-19 VIRUS!

    This man is brave and cares about the country and the wise use of taxpayer money. We need more like him.
    I LONG FOR THE DAY WHEN WE CAN HAVE THE TRUTH LEGALIZED IN SVG!

  20. Brilliant article! At the boat show in Toronto I have seen visitors around the Vincentian boot. When I question them; they always mention the Grenadines. Some make yearly visits and love the environment and the attraction. There is really noting to see on mainland SVG. Many people talk about the Botanic Garden, but that has nothing attractive for anybody to write about.
    I found out that visitors have to use the bush or police station washrooms to relieve themselves. The washrooms around Little Tokyo and in the market place are a mess.
    Growing up in Layou we spent hours at Jackson Bay. Straker allowed outsiders to poison the beach with crap from stone quarries in the mountain. One year I had to complain about the dust generated by activities of those stone mongrels, close the school where children spent several hours. I believe many children and even some adults are now suffering from asthma.
    Today my attraction is still the sea where I still spend many hours as a child. On my USA niece’s visit to SVG on year, I took her family to the Montreal Gardens and wasn’t impressed. They also visited Bequia because my brother (her father talked a lot about Bequia). They loved it!
    This is why I believe the Grenadines is the only tourist attraction for St. Vincent and the Grenadines. That’s where money should be spent to attract more visitors.

  21. Brave and caring citizen. He took a stand, spoke the truth, despite the risks of consequences to his personal livelihood, in the best interests of his country…
    He should be applauded and appropriately rewarded for his action.

  22. Avatar Of B. Elvin HerbertB. Elvin Herbert says:

    Mr Roban has added value in promoting clear and innovative thought.
    I’m sure that your erudite Prime Minister will be pleased to utilize this resourceful gentleman who is evidently a committed citizen.

  23. This puts the question of public offices efficiency on the table , and the capacity of the decisions makers to face reality if they want to honestly make progress in today economic environment

  24. Avatar Of Beverley McfarlaneBeverley McFarlane says:

    I admire your courage. This is taxpayer’s money is spent paying the salaries of useless public and quasi public servants.

  25. I fully support this gentle. I am a big support of the government, but when things like this are happening to our beautiful country I don’t support. We need more people like love for country . I am with you 100 percent. Wishing you all the best and hope someone look into this matter

  26. Avatar Of Edison ButvherEdison Butvher says:

    Mr. Roban is a brilliant young man who has lots of integrity. I commend him for giving us the facts supported by verifiable statistics. Instead of suspending him for speaking the truth, I urge the Cabinet to promote this bright young man to be the Tourism CEO. He is head and shoulders above the incumbent who is just full of air and empty talk. I taught both young men, so I am in a position to say that Roban is definitely the man with the drive and intellect to get tourism moving. Please promote him speedily.

  27. Monica A Rosa, U R not ready 2 giv advice, by telling an uprite & educated man, U R wrong, U shouldn’t do it on ur own”. Mr. Randolph Cato, I support ur endorsement of D learned Gentleman. Some of D reasons Y SVG is fast moving in D opposite direction. I often said, & I wil say again, “get rid of dat old slave mentality, crab in a barrel attitude, & U wil C positive results @ D nd of D day. Anodda reason D tourists R not seeing anyting marked SVG, is, dey believed everyting foreign is better. Dat is Y dey neva recover from ‘D Diamond Dairy fiasco, D Mount Bentick Sugar Factory dilema, & D Arrowroot Production fiasco. 3 very outstanding National Products.

  28. Best piece I’ve seen written about the state of the Vincentian tourism industry or anything to do with a Vincentian Government Department. This man knows what he is talking about and backs it up with relevant stats. Promote him, raise his pay and watch him transform the place and St Vincent’s fortunes – those opposed have something to lose/hide!

  29. The man is right and by the way, this information is publicly available. Do a search for example for: “east Caribbean central bank tourism statistics by country”. St Vincent and the Grenadines has been basically dead last in almost every stat for quite some time. Half of Antigua and Barbuda’s US$27,542 GDP per capita income comes from tourism, so they obviously know something they can teach us. So does the Bajans, Lucians and Grenadians. I asked this question before; Ah wonder if goat bite we?
    Yes, I understand Covid-19 and Soufriere and Dengue and the weather, but when you could only muster one scheduled international flight per week, you know things bad.
    Instead of being suspended, Mr. Roban should be head the St. Vincent and the Grenadines Tourism Authority, but alas, we dwell in the land of nepotism and curry favor. Many young people either leave the government service, get forced out or migrate because of this nonsense. What proportion of Vincentian talent reside abroad and why?

  30. SVG unraveling. If these questions are not being heard and answered in the SVGTA then they should certainly be addressed in the parliament. What is the Opposition doing?

  31. Indeed; “Someone has to stand up”. Someone has to say something. It is okay to make ‘Good Trouble’. It really doesn’t take a brain surgeon to walk into that airport and being told the names that have the monopoly on the related tourism businesses; to raise eyebrows asking how come and why?
    Rohan; yes I am not surprised of your suspension. You see, we do have a well-advertised state of the art airport within SVG, of which “information readily available to anyone in the world” are at a glanced, shared but not read; and are only noticed when someone get penalized for making a rumour on the matter, as you have just did. Now it spread like wildfire by the opposition/Yellow and Red; who no doubt will be taking it to the next house meeting. The house suspended and the sagas of the land continues. Things then go hush and another brilliant young man career is on hold. Best Regards Rohan. I call it Self empowerment.

  32. Avatar Of Rijjord SbmugRijjord Sbmug says:

    I have held this young man’s posture for some time on the issues of a lack of strategic positioning and the inability to isolate an area towards a competitive advantage. Needless to say: the continued investment in the current charade is tantamount to throwing money along with wood into a coalpit!

  33. Avatar Of Rebuild Svg TourismRebuild SVG Tourism says:

    I have attended numerous tourism marketing conferences for the past 15 plus years in the Caribbean, North American and Europe and I can count on one hand when SVG was represented. Mr. Roban you are correct in your summation of what’s happening in SVG tourism . In 2008 a Training Needs Assessment for the Tourism Sector in St. Vincent and the Grenadines was done by
    Dr. Abdool . The report has some brilliant recommendations on how SvG can build its tourism industry and by all account little was done with this report. Can someone from the Tourism Authority answer the following questions:

    1. Is there a written strategic Marketing Plan for the destination
    2. Is there a tourism product development department
    3. Is their a written strategic Public Relation plan
    4. Is there any representation in the USA and Europe?

    What do we know?
    •Travelers are looking for:
    –Unique experiences
    –Authenticity
    –Greater connections        
    –customized packages
    –Personalized products & services
    •To be treated as individuals
    •To be recognized for their loyalty
    •There are lots of choices, competition is tough

    Svg has maybe one of the best tourism product in term of nature but it’s so poorly managed which is a shame . Vincentians With the right leadership SVG will be one of the top tourism destinations in the region. In the meantime Barbados and st luica will continue to capitalize on one of Svg treasures , the Grenadines! Roban and others this fight for a better St Vincent is necessary. Think of the national anthem and ask yourself if Svg is really living up those those beautiful words. Yes we all should push for more meaning change in Svg. This change must first start with the way we think of ourselves and others. I am calling for a evolution in the way Vincentians think only then can anyone see any meaningful change.

    By the way Roban there are other progressive islands looking for talented people like you so this might be an opportunity for you to get into a environment to better utilize your still. I want you to stay and be the change agent!

  34. Avatar Of Concerned CitizenConcerned Citizen says:

    i have always maintained that compared to our neighbours the mainland has nothing to offer as regards tourism. i am embarrased when i see the few cruise passengers wandering aimlessly around a very dirty and disorganised city, comments have previously been made about the dearth of washroom facilities, the washrooms in the market, chaotic bus station. Heritage Square can be described as deplorable ( been kind here ). when i hear the slave song Tourism Today, Tourism……., I wonder does anyone in the relevant ministry really understand what a Tourism product is. I believe the future for SVG should be in producing products derived from a diversified agricultural base, this to include canning factories for the export of produce. We have extremely fertile soil so the the base is already here. Tourism is a very unreliable way of increasing the economy, and a non starter on the mainland because of a lack of infrastructure, and if we are been honest, a populance who have no pride in their country, look at the state of the capital if you disagree. The patriot who stuck his neck out by exposing the disconnect between been effective or just collecting a salary.

  35. Avatar Of Nathan 'Jolly' GreenNathan 'Jolly' Green says:

    When you visit places like Grenada and see their town, all the buildings are painted in pretty colours. Lovely clean public toilets and plenty of them. Excellent roads, shops, restaurants, everything hunky-dory. How clean everything is, no rubbish in the gutters looks nice, just what a tourist expects.

    Then come to Kingstown and see the drab buildings, some falling apart, all in need of painting and maintenance. Waste restaurant kitchen effluent’s flowing in the roadside open sewage gutters. The place is an absolute disgrace. That is the duty of the government, the building owners, the Vincentian people to get this sorted out. It has looked dreadful for the last twenty years. Even the city’s three or four public toilets, some will make you throw up if you go in them.

    The people have chosen the wrong people to look after the city and the country for 20 years; the old saying, if you lay down with dogs, you will get up with fleas apply. If you go to their homes, they are palaces, where they work has every conveniance. Some of you live in fourth world wooden houses, have regular food shortages, no spare money, cannot pay your bills. What is going on folk, things need to change, empty promises every five years a bag of cement and four sheets of galvanising will not put food in your bellies for four and a half years. Wake up, people! Wake Up!

    When you are next called to protest, go legally, you have nothing to lose and everything to gain.

  36. Avatar Of Nathan 'Jolly' GreenNathan 'Jolly' Green says:

    Kenton you are doing everyone a great disservice by not publishing what I write, There is nothing in what I wrote that is untrue and is UN factual so why the spite of denying the readers my comments?

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