Published On: Thu, Jun 7th, 2018

TSIS: a little history lesson

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Hilbert HaarBy Hilbert Haar

Seven years ago, USONA invested 1.63 million guilders for St. Maarten in TSIS – the Tourist Statistical Information System. The money is gone, but the system is not there – though it could have been.

TSIS came naturally to mind when Abdullah Abdulkadri, the coordinator of statistics and social development at the Economic Committee for Latin America and the Caribben (ECLAC) spoke on Thursday morning in Parliament about the importance of not only having data – but sharing them as well. For a tourism driven economy like St. Maarten data about visitors is essential for policy making and for targeted advertising and promotion campaigns.

Concerns about confidentiality stand more often than not in the way of preparedness to share data – and the history of TSIS is a classic example.

Five years ago, in an interview with the Today newspaper, TSIS project manager Jean James and Martin Meijerink, at the time project leader for institutional strengthening of the government administration, explained loud and clear the problems that brought down TSIS.

TSIS was designed to become the mother of all marketing tools. In 2013, the software was ready, the scanners were installed at the airport and new immigration cards were ready to be used. The project was ready to roll in April 2013, two years after Meijerink made a first presentation about it at the St. Maarten annual regional trade show – but it didn’t.

According to James and Meijerink, TSIS got in the crosshairs of then Justice Minister Roland Duncan and his obsession with ownership of software systems that hold information about St. Maarten. Duncan did not believe that it was possible to separate tourist and immigration information in TSIS and for that reason he refused to have it put to use at the airport.

The immigration department also made trouble: it refused to start using the TSIS-related immigration cards. Furthermore, the Tourist Bureau refused to feed the system with control data.

Meijerink said at the time that the immigration department scanned just 150 new immigration cards during a test period between December 1, 2011 and October 1, 2012. “That could have been 400,000 or even 800,000,” he pointed out.

Immigration officers furthermore frustrated the project by putting arrival stamps on the immigration cards – making it impossible for the system to read them.

The main objectives of TSIS were enabling targeted marketing and data analysis with visitor information, improving the immigration process and collecting feedback to empower the improvement of visitor experiences.

The system was exactly what the doctor ordered, so to speak, but its history shows how even the best plans can go to rot if stakeholders refuse – for one reason or the other – to give their support. If any lesson is to be learned from the TSIS-debacle, it is that projects without ownership are doomed to fail. And if that ownership comes without sufficient authority to make things happen, there is apparently always a saboteur lurking in the shadows to ensure failure.