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Much ado about a pool

Thursday, February 8, 2018

The public outcry about the recently renovated Hilton Hotel swimming pool was as predictable as it is laughable.

The fact that Minister of Trade Paula Gopee-Scoon would even feel the need to “control the narrative” surrounding the government’s spend on the pool borders on ridiculous.

Much of the social media chatter (which should often be discounted to a great degree) and water-cooler conversation around the pool upgrade ignores some salient points that are often well understood by those in the world of business, but lost on Trinidadians without some level of commercial acumen.

Firstly, the Hilton brand is an establishment in itself and respected the world over. In most—if not all—jurisdictions that the brand operates, it is seen as a prized tourist-attracting asset.

Further, it is no secret that T&T’s thrust in the arena of tourism has borne, relatively speaking, little fruit. But in spite of that, visitors to the island quite obviously would immediately recognise the Hilton brand. In its 50-plus years of operation in T&T, it has been quite the money-spinner for the State.

It would speak volumes and be rather contradictory, therefore, if the property owner—the government—in keeping with its mandate to develop the local tourism industry fails to modernise an asset so critical to its efforts.

In fact, it’s somewhat fortuitous on the part of the country that such an upgrade was completed in time to welcome hundreds of guests who will no doubt be staying at the hotel during the Carnival season—guests bringing foreign exchange and the power of word of mouth (or mouse) to inspire others to both the hotel and the country.

Can a value of $7.6 million really be put on this kind of positive long-term feedback?

Further, few people have taken the time to analyse what similar pool upgrades would cost in other territories bearing the Hilton brand which could make the government’s investment appear relatively small if not cost-effective ($7.6 million converts to approx. US$$1.1 million–a reasonable figure to upgrade an edifice as large as the Hilton pool area).

Put differently, the focus always seems to be on absolute figures, and not relative ones. Any businessman worth his wealth (the chairman of E-teck, Imtiaz Ahamad, thankfully is a seasoned businessman) knows that in order to maintain a successful, well-oiled enterprise, investments (and reinvestments) in his stock of capital assets will become necessary overtime.

Why should the expenditure on the Hilton pool area be viewed any differently? It is a capital asset owned by us, the people of T&T and it redounds to our benefit for it to do well.

The other talking point that always seems to emerge when much needed capex by the government is done in these type of endeavours is the whole “what the money could have been spent on instead” conversation.

Such rhetoric obfuscates many fundamental issues and, frankly speaking, illustrates a certain lack of understanding of the root cause of a number of problems in T&T, the least of which, historically, has actually been money.

The notion that somehow money spent on the pool upgrade could have been better used to furnish hospitals with beds, or stave off job losses, or in education (as spewed on social media) is, at best, a red herring.

Money invested in the pool upgrade in no way, shape, or form, takes away from these well-intentioned ideas.

Put differently, whether the money was spent on the pool or not will not lead to “more beds in hospitals”.

The reason why hospitals lack beds, or medication, or staff has seldom been an issue of financial resources but rather one of completely fractured systems. Such issues have, and continue to be administrative and not money related.

Further, if money was the issue, given the billions of dollars that have been funnelled behind the fight against crime then, by definition, our society should be completely crime free.

The reality of the situation facing our twin-island republic is that if we intend to be remotely competitive in the sphere of tourism (which is often touted as a vehicle for economic diversification), money will have to be spent to build, upgrade, and maintain those assets conducive to that objective—inclusive of our beaches, cultural assets and other flora and fauna. There is simply no other way.

Our Caribbean neighbours are doing it so why allow much ado about a swimming pool to get in the way?

Andre Worrell


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