In March 2022, Cabinet decided to award a $1.9 million contract to a New York-based firm to create the national tourism plan that successive governments had been promising for more than a decade.
Now, that contract has been put on hold and government is planning to engage a consultant to decide the way forward, Premier Dr. Natalio “Sowande” Wheatley said recently in response to questions from opposition member Myron Walwyn in the House of Assembly.
During a Sept. 5 HOA meeting, Mr. Walwyn asked specifically about a national tourism plan promised by then-Premier Andrew Fahie in February 2020. But such promises go back much further than that.
In 2011, the National Democratic Party came to power promising to replace an outdated tourism strategy adopted in the mid-1990s.
Until his retirement in 2019, then-Premier Dr. Orlando Smith continued to push the idea, which was also included in the Recovery to Development Plan that government published after Hurricane Irma devastated the territory.
“The first step to revisioning and repositioning the tourism industry for the future is the development of a national tourism strategy in 2018,” the plan stated.
In early 2018, then-BVI Tourist Board Chairman Russell Harrigan — the majority owner and publisher of this newspaper — said the BVITB was seeking $800,000 to create the plan.
That November, then-Tourism Director Sharon Flax-Brutus said the BVITB was committed to completing it by early 2019.
“Work has already begun on this project,” she said at the time, adding that the plan would include a renewed push toward urging residents to visit the sister islands.
However, no draft was made public, and Ms. Flax-Brutus resigned in May 2020.
Mr. Fahie, who became premier in February 2019, took up the mantle. Like Dr. Smith, he repeatedly promised a plan during his time in office.
In January 2021, he also announced that a special committee headed by then-Junior Minister for Tourism Sharie de Castro and a senior tourism advisor would review a draft tourism plan that he said would be finalised by the end of 2021.
That April, the government issued a request for proposals for the strategy’s development.
After a tender process, Cabinet decided in March 2022 to award the contract to the New York-based public relations firm 5W PR, according to a Cabinet summary published at the time.
The firm was to be paid $1,971,556 in three equal instalments of $657,185 for a duration of three years, the summary stated. That contract, however, is now on hold, Dr. Wheatley told the HOA this month.
“Upon assuming the post of premier last year, a review was conducted on the proposal submitted,” he said. “It was decided at that time to place the decision on hold pending further review.”
Dr. Wheatley continued, “It is my intention to engage a consultant soon, and the development of the national tourism plan will be one aspect of the scope of works.”
Mr. Walwyn then asked what policy is currently guiding tourism decisions in the territory.
“I remember very clearly that it seemed that this plan was extremely urgent and that we needed to chart a way forward with this industry being so important,” Mr. Walwyn said.
The premier replied that the BVITB’s strategic marketing plan provides some guidance. Meanwhile, he added, the government continues to meet directly with industry stakeholders.
Dr. Wheatley also noted that a recent Schedule of Additional Provisions passed in the HOA included the funding to engage a tourism consultant to give input on the sector’s growth.
“I can’t speak for what happened in the past, but I saw the need to engage this consultant, and we’ll make good use of that person’s expertise,” he said.