Can we survive another restart to education in the Hospitality Industry? This question has been on my mind since the recent announcement of the voluntary winding up of the Trinidad and Tobago Hospitality and Tourism Institute (TTHTI).
It weighed heavily on my mind because I sat as chair for a period during 2016-18. Our country has a history of re-starts and breaking apart of institutions. Amongst the many institutions we have dismantled are Caroni 1977 Ltd, TIDCO, BWIA, Petrotrin TDC and now TTHTI.
In the case of the hospitality industry, we seem to be wilfully and systematically destroying each pillar on which it stands. There was a time when this wasteful approach to re-starting could have been tolerated because the country was awash with oil and gas money but those days are over.
We have to find ways to re-design, repair and continue building on our past successes. Successful governance is deliberate and premeditated. It requires vision, planning, and significant amounts of hard work. We must design for that success.
For TTHTI, this is the third iteration of a training institution for the hospitality sector. Maybe the sector will get lucky and the notion that ‘the third time is the charm’ will apply—but I don’t believe in luck.
Forty-eight years ago, the Trinidad and Tobago Hotel School was established in partnership with the Canadian government and the Ryerson Technical Institute. That trial led to the Government of Trinidad and Tobago taking over the school in 1975.
The school navigated rough waters and managed to stay afloat. In 1996, the late William Aguiton, as President of the Hotel Association, led negotiations with the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) for US$2 million to help reform the Hotel School into TTHTI.
Now in 2020, there is news of the winding down of TTHTI and chatter about poor performance, funding deficits and political interference.
TTHTI has an excellent track record of providing opportunities for students who did not choose traditional professions as their path. Over the years, hundreds have excelled and become successful entrepreneurs based on the foundation provided by the school.
The region has benefited both as an option for young persons to learn the art of hospitality and from reciprocal arrangements for the placement of interns. While TTHTI has high global brand recognition, it has underperformed in transforming the quality of the hospitality sector and customer service in the country.
This might be an unfair criticism and one can easily argue that customer service transformation was not its mandate, and what is needed is a focussed effort to improve customer service.
Hospitality and Tourism are inextricably linked and successive leaders have paid lip service to the potential of the sectors while bemoaning its underperformance. If the government is serious about the Hospitality and Tourism sector, it will have to re-constitute the school under new arrangements and leadership—but the nexus with the hotel and restaurants will continue to exist.
This is just a most unfortunate development which has been exacerbated by Covid-19.
Maybe this is an opportunity to deliver on a PNM 2015 manifesto promise which refers to ‘converting the Tobago Hospitality and Tourism Institute (THTI) into a full-fledged university’. (page 74, PNM Manifesto 2015).