$20 million for Tobago Heritage Festival

Fi­nance Min­is­ter Colm Im­bert ad­mit­ted of be­ing over­joyed by giv­ing To­ba­go $20 mil­lion for its To­ba­go Her­itage Fes­ti­val, stat­ing that if he could have al­lo­cat­ed more mon­ey to the an­nu­al event, he would have.

The $20 mil­lion was a frac­tion of the monies to be dis­trib­uted to To­ba­go’s tourism sec­tor, as an ad­di­tion­al $40 mil­lion will be giv­en in the next fis­cal year for a “rolling three-year tourism plan.”

Im­bert was re­spond­ing to Op­po­si­tion MP Ra­mona Ram­di­al dur­ing yes­ter­day’s Stand­ing Fi­nance Com­mit­tee meet­ing in­to the To­ba­go House of As­sem­bly in Par­lia­ment, as she ques­tioned what ben­e­fits To­bag­o­ni­ans will gen­er­ate af­ter $20 mil­lion is spent on the an­nu­al fes­ti­val.

Im­bert gave a break­down of how the $20 mil­lion will be dis­trib­uted to six en­ti­ties, with the largest chunk of $8 mil­lion be­ing hand­ed to the To­ba­go Her­itage Fes­ti­val, stat­ing that these were all tourism fo­cused ac­tiv­i­ties.

He said tourism has been the great­est con­trib­u­tor to To­ba­go’s GDP.

“And there­fore, I whol­ly en­dorse, and sup­port, and be­lieve that this ex­pen­di­ture is for the ben­e­fit of To­ba­go and To­bag­o­ni­ans and we are hap­py to pro­vide this $20 mil­lion.”

In light of the de­crease in tourism on the is­land in the last five years, Ram­di­al ques­tioned if the mon­ey al­lo­cat­ed was jus­ti­fied to at­tract tourists and if more need­ed to be done.

“Per­haps, we should spend some more. You may be right. I can’t say.”

Ram­di­al point­ed out that while Gov­ern­ment in­jects mil­lions in­to these events, tick­et sales rake in far less than what is ex­pend­ed, as she queried if the in­jec­tions were jus­ti­fied.

“I am hap­py to give To­ba­go this $20 mil­lion for their Her­itage Fes­ti­vals. I am over­joyed to give them this $20 mil­lion. I think it is to­tal­ly jus­ti­fied and if I could give them more, I would,” Im­bert replied.

Op­po­si­tion MP Tim Gopeesingh al­so queried why $40 mil­lion had to be spent on a three-year tourism plan.

“I see in 2018 $40 mil­lion was spent and in 2019 an­oth­er $40 mil­lion is es­ti­mat­ed,” Gopp­se­ingh said.

Im­bert said the bulk of the $40 mil­lion, as has been the prac­tice for many years, was to pur­chase air­lifts.

“Of that $40 mil­lion, $21.1 mil­lion will be paid to Vir­gin At­lantic to pro­vide air­lifts and $16.9 mil­lion will be paid to British Air­ways to pro­vide air­lift.”

The re­main­ing $2 mil­lion, Im­bert said, will be spent in as­sist­ing a cer­ti­fied tour guide as­so­ci­a­tions while Caribbean Air­lines will be giv­en $700,000.

He said the mon­ey would pro­vide air­lifts and en­cour­age air­lines to come to To­ba­go.

Gopeesingh en­quired if the mil­lions spent on the two air­lines had achieved its ob­jec­tive, to which Im­bert replied “yes”, stat­ing that he was sure the air­lifts have been reap­ing re­wards in To­ba­go.

- by Shaliza Hassanali

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