Why Tobago Hilton?

Newsday Editorial
Wednesday, April 2 2008

TobagoWe are unconvinced of the need for Government to purchase the Tobago Hilton. What is involved here is not only the cost of the purchase, more than $200 million, but that additionally Government has had to approve the allocation of $45 million for immediate repairs although the hotel was constructed less than a decade ago. Was there not normal ongoing repair work over the years?

In addition Hilton International is relinquishing its 51 percent shareholding in the hotel and there has been the hint by Trinidad and Tobago’s Trade and Industry Minister, Dr Keith Rowley that Hilton International may not decide to continue its managing of the hotel. We are not impressed by the argument by the Trade and Industry Minister that Government was required to intervene because Tobago’s economy was threatened (by the closure). Dr Rowley’s advice: “What is happening in Tobago is we are expanding our interest in the hotel business” would normally have been the sort of statement that the owner of a successful business enterprise would have made.

This however, was contradicted almost immediately when the Trade and Industry Minister added that it was a pragmatic intervention, “required to treat with a situation where Tobago’s economy is threatened and Government has the responsibility to deal with that development”. Dr Rowley pointed out that several foreign airlines which fly to Tobago “had been considering pulling out because of the physical deterioration of the Tobago Hilton over the last nine years”.

We would have thought that the foreign airlines would have been more concerned with the tourism attractions Tobago provided along with the known hospitality of Tobagonians, or was an additional factor in their flying to Tobago that of packaged deals? For while it is true that a well maintained Tobago Hilton, a four-star hotel, would have been a marketing plus for the island and its drive to win additional tourism business clearly the two hundred room Tobago Hilton had not been able to attract guests in sufficient volume.

Meanwhile, in a not unrelated development Minister of Tourism, Joseph Ross disclosed the day following the announcement of Government’s purchase of the Tobago Hilton that Trinidad and Tobago’s travel and tourism (aspect of the) economy was expected to expand annually by 2.9 percent. This, according to the World Tourism and Travel Council’s 2008 Country Report. The World Tourism and Travel Council would have factored Tobago and the Tobago Hilton’s potential guest levels into its country report. Minister Ross made no mention of any negative impact of a physically deteriorating Tobago Hilton would have had on the projected 2.9 percent annual growth. Instead he advanced that Trinidad and Tobago’s tourism sector “offers significant opportunity for growth and has arguably not received the level of attention it deserves”.

Our principal concern however, is that while Government already owns the properties housing two hotels operated by two international chains it had opted to do this prior to the construction of the hotels rather than act as in the case of the Tobago Hilton as a tacit rescue mission. With the purchase of Hilton International’s 51 percent shareholding in the Tobago Hilton and the possibility implied in Minister Rowley’s statement “if it (Hilton International) decides to remain as the hotel’s manager” that the Hilton chain may not continue to operate the hotel what then?

Incidentally will even the 2.9 percent growth anticipated for Trinidad and Tobago’s travel and tourism by the World Tourism and Travel Council 2008 Country Report be achieved given the slowdown in the United States economy and its domino effect on, say, United Kingdom and European economies? And if it is not, but instead rolls back what then of the planned investment by Government and will Government commit yet more taxpayers’ money to additional hotel rescue missions?