Tour operator Michael Frank

The average Tobagonian is worried about the economy.

With the Tobago House of Assembly elections less than one month away, Guardian Media spoke to people on the island in Scarborough and Crown Point to get a sense of what they believe the politicians should focus on during the campaign.

And many have singled out the economy, which some think may take up to two years to recover once tourism, the island’s main money earner, resumes.

Tour operator Michael Frank has now turned to agriculture to get by. He once operated a popular car rental and reef tour business that fell through during the pandemic. Frank said he was disappointed with the way the government handled the economy during the pandemic.

“Ninety point nine per cent of my business is tourism based and because of the pandemic it has closed every sector of my business,” he said.

“All the other people I know in my field are going through the same process. I am just waiting for the beach to reopen and business to open.”

Frank said tour operators did not get any grants to sustain them during the lockdowns but lamented that assistance only went to the suppliers of materials to do repairs on vessels. Frank said while he turned to agriculture, his employees were in limbo.

Some, he said, followed his lead and went into agriculture while others had run-ins with the law.

Frank said Tobago needed a change and he was looking forward to the December 6, THA elections.

“I am predominantly PNM (People’s National Movement), but I think we need some change this time around. I am not saying that the PM did not do a good job with controlling the pandemic but I think he (Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley) did a very terrible job in controlling the economy. The economy cannot die because of the pandemic, we have to learn to live with the pandemic.

“He can’t shut down the country and I feel he actually spite the country because if people is not a hundred per cent vaccinated you never going to open up beaches, you not going to open up back the tourism sector, that is not right, it don’t sit right with me. I am going to make a change and I do hope that change comes to Tobago.”

At Store Bay, there were four people at the facility who came to look at the empty beach from a distance. A handful of craft vendors had opened their booths but there were no customers.

Vendors said the opening of the beaches was important.

One vendor remarked, “People come to Tobago to go to the beach, to visit the Buccoo Reef, if people want to stay in a hotel they can do that in Trinidad. They allow people to travel in a crowded airplane and a crowded boat to come to Tobago from Trinidad and on the beach which is an open space nobody can go.”

At Scarborough, the area was almost empty around 8 am, except for those venturing to the market, out to play Play Whe or purchase doubles for breakfast.

We caught up with Daniel Constance who said he believes that the economy would take more than a year to bounce back once tourism reumes and the beaches reopen.

He said the upcoming election was important to the people of Tobago. “Whoever is going to do the best job that is who we should put into action. If the people think the PDP (Progressive Democratic Patriots) could do the best job, fine. If they think that they need a change and they think the PDP should be there that’s great. If they think PNM is doing a good job they should keep them.”

Bar owner Preston Trim said bar operators needed financial assistance, since many did not have the resources to restock and reopen.

Jackie Reynolds of Plymouth moves around to sell hair bonnets. Because of the slow flow of customers she cannot stay in any one location.

She, too, is worried about the economy and fears it could take up to 18 months to get back on track. This is time, she said, the people of Tobago cannot afford.

She wants whoever takes the reigns of the Assembly after December 6 to make it their focus.

Street vendor Lisa Muldare of Goodwood said life had been hard for many Tobagonians. Muldare said despite the hardships, she was looking forward to voting on December 6.

“I just want people to think, Tobago needs a change. I voting for the PDP, who vex loss.”

Muldare said after losing her job, she resorted to selling water on the roadside to bring in some money but she said she and many other Tobagonians want their livelihoods back.