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One-on-one with Claude Benoit
This week, the T&T Chamber of Industry and Commerce is pleased to introduce you to the new chairman of our Tobago Division, Claude Benoit, who was elected at the Division’s Annual General Meeting on March 19, 2018.
Mr Benoit, tell us a bit about yourself. What is your profession, and how did you become chair of the Tobago Division?
I’ve been a businessman for over two decades in telecommunication, cable TV (with Trico Industries Ltd), radio (with Pulse 89.5fm), and now Tobago Channel 5—the sole local TV station on the island. I previously served—for two terms—as an assemblyman for the Plymouth/Golden Lane area in the Tobago House of Assembly (THA), with a portfolio as the secretary for tourism.
There, I was responsible for creating policies for tourism development on the island. Members of the Tobago Division encouraged me to join the chamber and, in 2018 the membership elected me as chairman.
What are your vision and plans for the organisation?
I see the Tobago division as an entity that can play a greater role in the development of the island. The expertise and experience of the business community here can be brought to bear as a significant contributor to the island’s decision-making processes. We can achieve this through communicating with the other stakeholders, inclusive of the government—both THA and central government.
Explain a bit about the Tobago division, its team, and how your work fits into the bigger picture of the national business sector.
The Tobago division is an arm of the T&T Chamber of Industry and Commerce, which is itself a national organisation. Like many other chambers of commerce, it comprises corporate entities and business professionals.
The organisation has the responsibility of advocating and lobbying on behalf of its members to capitalise on common goals—as a collective, they speak with one voice and this can redound to the business community. Because the nation is a twin island state, Tobago’s business is national business.
The division’s day-to-day functions are conducted by a management team that is elected by the membership each year.
How would you describe the current mood of Tobago’s corporate sector and the wider population?
In terms of the corporate sector, the mood is very apprehensive and even sceptical primarily about the government’s approach to fixing Tobago’s immediate problems and even dealing with the long-term development of the island. In terms of the wider population, the mood varies, from hopeful to dismal, based on allegiances.
From business perspective, what are the main a challenges confronting Tobago?
The main challenges are low productivity and the lack of local and international investment.
These are fundamental to our limited infrastructure; our dependence on Trinidad for even our basic needs. They have also led to a lack of efficient processes which, in turn, lead to higher costs of doing business on the island, and therefore a higher cost for our citizens.
Can these be fixed? How? What resources would be needed?
Yes, they definitely can be fixed. The first stage is a meeting of the minds to develop an island-wide plan to improve productivity. There is a need for policies and rules to make Tobago more attractive to international investors, while at the same time ensuring benefits to the island and its citizens.
In terms of resources, we need rules and regulations to encourage investors. A specific example is the land license regulation as it pertains to Tobago: this needs to be tweaked since, in its present form, it is a deterrent. Otherwise, basic infrastructure needs to be put in place—and maintained!
So what does Tobago have going for it that could change the current economic tide?
The current crisis has placed the island in a position where people are conscious of the need for human, social and infrastructural development. It has raised awareness among the population that a change is necessary to prevent the situation from getting worse. I believe the people are ready to make this change and with some consensus, the island can begin the task of moving forward positively.
How do you envision Tobago’s future?
Tobago’s future is great. However, this end result will depend on our successes in improving productivity, attracting significant international investors toward infrastructural development, and drafting and implementing policies and guidelines to launch Tobago into the future as a major tourism destination; second to none in the Caribbean.
I see education in tourism. I imagine Tobago as a campus destination, where students from around the world come to the island to receive training. I see sport in tourism – the island welcoming teams from around the world for sporting events.
I see health in tourism—especially in the areas of ageing and providing retirement communities for people around the world.
Based on its location and climate, Tobago is well poised to take advantage of these significant revenue drivers.
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