Simon Stiell: “A missed opportunity” in tourism

Former Director of Tourism, Simon Stiell has been speaking about the “missed opportunity” in the area of tourism by the current National Democratic Congress (NDC) government of Prime Minister Tillman Thomas.

Following is the text of an open letter on the issue of Grenada’s tourism by Stiell who is said to be closely aligned to the main opposition, New National Party:

“Many of you will know me through my association with the Grenada Board of Tourism (GBT) where I served as the Director of Tourism from November 2010 up to my resignation in June of this year.

I write this open letter firstly to draw a line under my tenure at the GBT and secondly, to express my concerns with what I see happening, not only to our tourism industry, but also to Grenada as a whole.

Former Director of Tourism, Simon Stiell – all I see is wasted opportunities

I wish to make it clear from the outset, that it is not my intention to play the pointless game of cheap politics but to genuinely express my heartfelt concerns for this beautiful country of ours. What I can no longer do is remain silent when all I see is wasted opportunities and gross mismanagement taking place throughout our nation today.

When I agreed to take on the position at the GBT, I was not motivated by personal gain or financial reward, but motivated by the opportunity to institute the critical changes required to transform the GBT from its current state, into a more effective and productive organisation.

Before the last general election, I had served for just a few months as the Chairman of the GBT, during which time I gained a full appreciation of the challenges facing the industry.

With the change of government in July 2008, and in keeping with Grenada’s apparent political culture, I was replaced as chairman without having sufficient opportunity to effect any significant change. So when asked to return to the same organisation as director, an organisation still in need of radical change, I jumped at the opportunity.

My acceptance of the position was however conditional on two elements; securing the necessary support from the board of directors to focus on the specific areas that would have the greatest impact and truly transform the organisation; and more critically, the reassurance that there was the necessary political will to make the required changes.

With tourism being the greatest single foreign exchange earner for Grenada, the GBT, whose mandate is to promote and develop the sector, is arguably the most important of all government agencies.

Therefore the need for the GBT to function at the highest possible level, especially in these testing times, is of paramount importance for the survival and long-term development of the tourism industry.

A much-publicised strategic plan was developed, a plan that was comprehensive and focused on implementation. A plan that was not going to become just another academic shelf study left to gather dust. One of the key recommendations of the strategic plan was the restructuring of the GBT.

The restructuring would address many of the chronic problems that exist within the GBT today, and create a new organisation that would have the right skill sets, tools and focus required to effectively meet the demands of a highly competitive and fast moving industry. Other tourism boards across the region have already gone through this process and are already reaping the benefits.

If Grenada is truly serious about developing and taking full advantage of the opportunities offered by tourism, then the restructuring of the GBT is crucial.

It is unnecessary to publicly go into all the ins and outs of what happened, suffice to say, six months after the restructuring process began, the “political will” required to complete the necessary steps to restructure the GBT ceased.

The excuses given were weak and unrepresentative of the considered measures that had been put in place that would have lead to the successful restructuring.

In my opinion, the actions of the Government in this matter were highly questionable and completely undermined the integrity of the restructuring process and all of those involved in its implementation. Support must be measured in terms of positive actions, actions that go beyond paying mere lip service.

Without the political will and support to do what was necessary to transform Grenada’s tourism sector, I was left with no other choice but to resign.

Four months on, I have had time to reflect not only on a missed opportunity to effect meaningful change at the GBT, but to place this specific experience within the wider context of this Government’s failure to deliver in so many other areas in Grenada oer the past four and a half years.

As a concerned patriot, I can no longer remain silent when I see Grenada’s performance relative to our Caribbean neighbours plummet, whether that is in the specific area of tourism, or the wider areas of economic development, health care, education, social welfare, the list is almost endless.

Grenada has the potential to do far better. Grenadians deserve far better. The time has now come for me to speak out…….

Simon Stiell

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