Tomorrow, September 27, the world will observe World Tourism Day on the theme: “Tourism and Rural Development,” celebrating “the unique role that tourism plays in providing opportunities outside of big cities and preserving cultural and natural heritage all around the world” (UN).

The UN states that Tourism has been among the hardest hit of all sectors by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Tourism employs one in every ten people on Earth. Because of the pandemic, 100-120 million direct tourism jobs are at risk…No country has been unaffected.

“Restrictions on travel and a sudden drop in consumer demand have led to an unprecedented fall in international tourism numbers, which in turn have led to economic loss and the loss of jobs.

“Women, youth, and workers in the informal economy are the most at risk from tourism sector job losses and business closures due to the pandemic. At the same time, the destinations most reliant on tourism for jobs and economic growth are likely to be the hardest hit.”

Tourism, which was a lifeline to many in T&T, is in crisis. There has been a steep decline in hotel and guest house occupancy rates due to the pandemic.

Senator the Honourable Randall Mitchell, Minister of Tourism, Culture and the Arts, who was sworn in after our recent General Election, will have his work “cut out” for him if he is to meet the task outlined on his Ministry’s website, where it is stated that he “guides the Revision of the National Tourism Policy to ensure that the industry is set on a strong growth trajectory.

“He also continues to advocate for tourism education within the school system and awareness of tourism as a viable contributor to economic diversification.”

In the last Administration, he was appointed Minister of Tourism on April 9, 2018.

The Government will need to think carefully about lifting travel restrictions. Then there is the issue of restoring traveller confidence as none of us has a crystal ball to tell us exactly what the future holds with regards to the virus.

Like most countries, we will need to rethink the tourism sector for the future. A tourism policy should include plans to involve the local community, so that they can benefit economically, socially etc.

However, with the current lockdown, many small businesses have closed, many are out of work.

The Association of Caribbean States quotes from an article published on Nov14, 2014 by Lisa Shandilya, a hospitality professional in TT: “Tourism policies should be in flux to correspond to a changing market and economy.

“She also lists the advantages of having a focused tourism policy, explaining that such a policy is, in itself a clear plan of action seeking to identify destinations as targets not only for travel, but for cultural and commercial development, in order to attract investors and foster broad social and economic growth.”

With all the talk about diversification over the years, TT has not really addressed tourism as seriously as some of our neighbouring Caribbean countries.

Have we done enough, for example, to market our heritage sites, our cultural offerings such as carnival, the steelpan etc?

It’s not as though persons have not been pointing out our deficiencies.

Read Martin Daly’s, SC, article entitled: Tobago trouble: Is anyone listening to the cries of our Tourism trade (9 Oct 2016). The comments in response to his article give us much food for thought about how other people see us, as well as how well aware some of us are about the deficiencies in our tourism sector. Dr Auliana Poon’s 2011 article: “Crime and tourism do not mix”, also highlight some home truths. We know that travel/tourism touches all sectors of the economy, yet the dates of these articles and others show that, over the years, our vision for our Tourism product has not been sustainable.

What indicators do we use for evaluating competitiveness or quality performance in the tourism sector?

Wenbin Luo rightly says that: “Performance evaluations are a critical tool in promoting the sustainability of tourist destinations.”

Such evaluation should take into consideration the quality of accommodation, services, ease of access to the destination, the availability of education and training/capacity building in the hospitality sector, whether our destination marketing has been innovative etc.

The 2021 National Budget will be presented in Parliament on Budget Day–5 October.

Given what some see as a “depression” in our economy, exacerbated by the impact of COVID-19, we can expect a stringent budget, which will inevitably impact on tourism.

But we are a resilient people.