A former tourism official has refuted Tourism and Investment Minister Asot Michael’s claims that blame for the recent drop in tourist arrivals lies at the feet of local hoteliers.
Leader of the opposition United Progressive Party (UPP), Harold Lovell, who is a former tourism minister, said his administration recorded an 8 per cent growth in tourism arrivals during 2014 with the same hotels Michael claimed caused this year’s decline.
“I believe this causes a problem for Mr Michael. How do you explain that last year, in the first three months, there was an increase with the same properties and the same issues, and this year there’s a decline of 8 per cent?” Lovell queried.
Michael, who appeared on OBSERVER media’s Voice of the People on Tuesday, said local hoteliers had failed to reinvest in providing much-needed upgrades for their properties. As a result, Michael claimed that only a mere 35 per cent of the country’s room stock is sellable, which has negatively impacted the tourism product.
Lovell said the actual cause of the problem was Minister Michael’s decision to scrap the tourism strategy put in place by John Maginley, who was tourism minister during the UPP’s last term in office.
He further claimed that the firing of Derede Samuel-Whitlock, who was the country’s director of tourism, in the United States, also contributed to the decline.
“I believe she was able to leverage her relationships and get value for the marketing dollars she was assigned,” Lovell said.
“After coming into office, Mr Michael discontinued most of those initiatives. I don’t think it has anything to do with the properties. I believe the issue with the properties is merely a smoke screen and a red herring. “
Meanwhile, Michael denied cutting the UPP’s tourism programmes and said the ministry is in fact still paying for marketing with airlines like WestJet and various inherited debts.
“We still have Mr Minott as our PR consultant in New York. We’ve retained him. He’s been there for over 10 years. We’re still paying him US $10,000 a month. All those. We have not cut any of the marketing,” he said.