Photographs posted on the Facebook page of the Florida Caribbean Cruise Association (FCCA) featuring Prime Minister Mia Mottley leading a delegation in talks with FCCA representatives, prompt a number of questions which our recently elected Prime Minister must answer.
In one of the photographs which show the delegations seated at a dinner table, Ms Mottley can be seen engaging FCCA President Michelle Paige in conversation, while Minister of Tourism Kerrie Symmonds sits at the opposite side of the table, arms folded, and seemingly listening intently. Also in the picture are Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Tourism Donna Cadogan, Chief Executive Officer of the Barbados Tourism Marketing Inc Billy Griffith, other Barbados representatives, and representatives of the cruise industry.
However, curiously, Allen Chastanet, the prime minister of St Lucia, also features prominently in the photograph.
Which leads us to ask, why is Mr Chastanet attending a Barbados meeting with the cruise lines?
When the Barbados Government Information Service stated in a press release on June 29 that Ms Mottley would “travel to Florida, where she will lead discussions with the Florida Caribbean Cruise Association” following the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) summit in Jamaica, we were left to conclude that it was a Barbados meeting.
So, why was Mr Chastanet in the room, with only Ms Paige separating him from the Prime Minister?
Could it be that the St Lucian leader was the engineer of the talks? Why wasn’t Mr Symmonds the one sitting next to Ms Paige? Is Mr Chastanet the Prime Minister’s lead advisor on tourism? That would be a terribly scary thought!
We have already seen that Ms Mottley adopted the St Lucian leader’s Airport Development Tax that unfairly punishes airline passengers while letting cruise visitors, who contribute minimally to the economy when compared to air passengers, off the hook.
During his tenure as minister of tourism for St Lucia between 2006 and 2011, Mr Chastanet railed and whinged about Britain’s air passenger duty, even as he introduced an airport development tax, which was later rescinded by the St Lucia Labour Party after it won the 2011 election.
However, less than a year after Mr Chastanet was elected as prime minister in June 2016, he reintroduced the tax of US$35 and raised the airport departure tax for foreign visitors from US$25 to US$63, and from US$25 to US$35 for passengers travelling to CARICOM and French Caribbean countries.
“We are not overly concerned [it will put off tourists],” Agnes Francis, chair of the then St Lucia Tourist Authority, said at the time.
It also appears our goodly Prime Minister is about to pull directly from Mr Chastanet’s playbook in her plans for the Barbados Tourism Marketing Inc (BTMI) and the Barbados Tourism Product Authority (BTPA).
“The Government of Barbados will . . . review the Governance arrangements of the BTMI and the BTPA] so as to ensure a transfer of lead responsibility to the private sector for the ownership and management of these entities. It is a partnership because the Government will retain minority shareholding and a golden share,” Ms Mottley said during the presentation of her recent mini Budget, in which she announced the airport and other tourism taxes, to, in part, fund the two entities.
Cooperation between the public and private sectors on the marketing and development of tourism is an excellent idea. However, placing lead responsibility in the hands of the private sector is, at the very least, naïve.
Tourism is much too important to the survival of this country to allow its development to be dictated by profit and loss, which is the primary concern of the private sector. While it is true that Government will retain veto power over the company’s charter despite retaining minority shares, decisions dictated by profit and loss can have serious social and other consequences.
We have nothing against the private sector – after all, we are part of that community – but it is a fallacy to suggest that governments cannot successfully run businesses, and only the private sector can. It’s a fallacy because, as was the case with the last global recession, it is the failure of the private sector that is often responsible for such economic catastrophies. Take a look at the many businesses that fail and see who had been running them.
The fact is there are brilliant people in both sectors who perform extraordinary deeds, and there are people of lesser skills in them both. Therefore, while we must efficiently explore the resources of both sectors for the overall good, a private sector led BTMI or BTPA is not the way to go.
In fact, Ms Mottley should probably check with Mr Chastanet about Air Jamaica, the airline at which he was a marketing executive, and the hundreds of millions of dollars in losses it incurred while it was run by a certain Gordon Butch Stewart of Sandals fame.
Mr Chastanet can also share with the Prime Minister, a little about his ill-fated Caribbean Tourism Development Agency (CTDC), a public private sector entity that he, along with some of his cohorts, attempted to impose on the region as part of a plan to shred the internationally respected, Barbados-based Caribbean Tourism Organization (CTO) which son-of-the-soil Jean Holder and other visionaries built.
The CTDC finally withered and died without ever making an impression, but the CTO is still struggling to recover from the injuries.
We are not seeking here to imply that Ms Mottley intends to take all of her tourism advice from her St Lucian counterpart. Far from it. However, in the absence of an explanation from her on why Mr Chastanet was at the Florida meeting, and in light of the fact that her first major decision on the sector was a carbon copy of his own, we remain concerned that this may be the case.
So, please Prime Minister, assure us that your tourism policies will not be dictated by Castries.