Bogus tourism award

By Raffique Shah
October 23, 2011

Raffique ShahI WAS not surprised that Tourism Minister Rupert Griffith was all excited over Trinidad and Tobago “winning” a “best destination 2012” award from a Romania-based organisation that seems to be as genuine as a three-dollar bill. Griffith does not strike me as being a particularly bright person, his doctorate notwithstanding.

What shocked me was Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar’s unqualified endorsement of the award. Really, is the PM so naive? She must know that in tourism we are not even in the minor league. Indeed, Carnival aside, we would have fewer foreign visitors to this twin-island republic than those who choose to visit crime-ridden Guyana, volcano-hit Montserrat or pancake-flat, tiny Saba.

But there was our PM hosting some dubious-looking characters at the Hyatt, giving thanks to them for bestowing an honour on this country, and proclaiming tourism as a major platform for our future development. By coincidence, I browsed through Government’s Medium-Term Policy Framework and noted there was little reference to the tourism sector.

Let me try to put our tourism in some perspective. According to the Caribbean Tourism Organisation (CTO), this country hosted 158,000 visitors between January and May 2010. If we assume a steady flow throughout the year, we may have had around 400,000 visitors last year. In contrast, Barbados welcomed 532,000 visitors, the Bahamas 1.3 million, Jamaica 1.9 million, Cuba 2.5 million and the Dominican Republic 4.1 million.

Last July, I pointed out in an article that tiny St Maarten (37 sq mls) hosted 400,000 visitors, almost all of them staying at hotels. Most of our arrivals (300,000, CSO data, 2008) stay at private homes—suggesting they are from the diaspora. And while St Maarten surpassed 1.5 million cruise passenger visits in 2010, we would have been lucky to have had 15,000!

Against this gloomy tourism background, enter the dubious European Council on Tourism and Trade, a non-profit organisation based in Bucharest, Romania (try to locate it on a map!), telling Griffith and the Prime Minister our country is the most exciting destination in 2012. If there is one thing I know about Romania, it is the homeland of Gypsies, who are notorious for fortune telling.

So this bogus body peers into the future and sees Trinidad and Tobago overhauling not just our Caribbean neighbours who are miles ahead of us, but trumping the whole damn world in 2012. Yeah… and pigs will fly…

The gullibility of our politicians never ceases to amaze me. How many readers remember Basdeo Panday as PM in 1999, hosting the Miss Universe contest? Panday wined and dined billionaire Donald Trump, posed with near-naked “beauties”, and told us that Trump would plough hundreds of millions of dollars to develop one of the offshore islands into a tourist paradise.

If we’d held our breaths, we would all be dead and mummified by now! No Trump, no resort, not even a whiff from Donald’s exhaust.

Then big-thinker (try that with a lisp!) Patrick Manning committed hundreds of millions of our money to host two major international conferences—Summit of the Americas and Commonwealth Heads. His reasoning was that we could not measure the benefits that would accrue to the country, the trade-gates that would open.

Manning locked down the natives for the duration of those conferences. Opulence was the order of the day. Champagne, not local rum, flowed. Two years later, we are still paying the bills, with not a damn dollar in returns from those conferences.

Readers would understand why I am angry with Griffith for making fools of us all. He said Government spent nothing on the Hyatt bash to celebrate our status as the world’s number one destination, but I have my doubts. “Lochos” invariably “sponge” off gullible government officials, and by extension, taxpayers. We pay. They play.

News reports stated that in the Council’s debate over which country should be given the 2012 award (Cuba and Nigeria were the other “competitors”), Dr Anton Caragea presented a paper titled—wait for it—”Trinidad and Tobago, A Success Story in Tourism”. This man and his fellow councillors need to have their heads, brains all their body parts carefully examined. They must be Gypsies-gone-crazy.

The madness does not end there, however. Caragea spoke in glowing terms about our “festivals tourism”, citing Holi (Phagwa), Hosay, Corpus Christi, Eid-ul-Fitr, Divali and Carnival. Other than Carnival, who the hell travels to Trinidad for Phagwa, Hosay or Corpus Christi?

As someone who used to attend Hosay in St James annually, I can tell you not even people in that district patronise the parade of tadjahs nowadays. Except for devout Catholics, Corpus Christi is like a corpse. As for Divali, the only “tourists” we have are city folks who flock to Felicity, and locals who patronise the Divali Nagar.

Clearly, Griffith wants to appear to be busy promoting this country as a destination. Nothing is wrong with that, except for all the initiatives he and his team have thus far undertaken. A few months ago, a large contingent sauntered off to India to tap into that market. Other than Indian investors who may have an interest in setting up business here, what do Indians know of, or care about, Trinidad and Tobago? That was a costly exercise in futility.

The Minister and Tidco officials are doing the same things the last government did, and the one before that, none of which boosted tourism. Bogus awards will not help: innovative thinking may.

7 thoughts on “Bogus tourism award”

  1. Mr. Shah, you were certainly all over the place today. Anyhow I should visit some of those place also. Yes it might be, or is, a bogus award, but are we in T&T interested in tourist at time other than carnival?? Having lived in various countries and observed their tourism sector I am not sure that we want tourist here. We believe that everyone owes us and therefore being here is enough for other to bring their money and give it to us. We demand that of the government so this is nothing new. Our jewel, Tobago, believe that everyone should understand Tobago and its people but they don’t need to know anything about the visitors arriving or their needs. So the award is received and how do we prepare for an increase in visitors, do we expect an increase??

  2. Lovely perspective Uncle Shah.Quite refreshing , and definitely balanced, and objective one can add. The obsession of these and similar regimes ,with acquiring fake accolades , as above mentioned,from disingenuous foreigners , with ulterior motives – a la ,lascivious fixation ,on our abundant natural resources -is mind boggling.
    Pity they cannot be as concerned about the fact that their over zealousness , on a different front, is making us loose our stellar image, as a truly democratic country , as rights of the poor , weak ,and desperate ,are eroded with impunity , under the guise of security,with limited long term returns , one can also add.
    Perhaps your last paragraph sort of summarize the impression many of the people who extended the mandate to them are coming to realize- and this of course is an indication , that they had no plan in the first place to effect the CHANGE , datHer Majesty Queen K, promised ,during certain ‘Obamaish,’ media fronting, yes?
    Still awaiting a jobs plan. No one is fooled by red herring , political grandstanding/ distractions.
    Tell dem Uncle Shah! We wish our people well, as our sleeping Opposition ,remains still distraught , with no coherent plans themselves since 2009,to eventually become that much needed alternative , and present day , checks , and balance body ,to prevent any encroaching tyranny.
    Yes , I know , a bit hash language, that’s more suited for a certain North Afrikan regime,that came to fruition ,in a coup 42 years ago, and was ended so terribly under the blizzard of a 2 billion dollar, Obama led , ‘tail wag de dog assault,’ but for the record , be aware that he too did not get to this stage overnight , but by gradual evolvement. When your neighbor’s house on fire, what do you do again folks? Oh yes ,burn yours!

    Speaking of which, I just cannot believe it’s quite 3 years since I began traversing dis here, information highway. Time to step up my game- so stay tune. Soon come with ah new vibes, to wake up the sleeping Trini, and regional giant!

  3. Thank you, Raff, for another “eye-opening” article. I feel that you article will be helpful to the Tourism minister, the PM and others in government if they are humble and sensible enough to read your words. They may be to arrogrant to accept advice from you because you are not a party supporter nor a financer. In spite of this, I urge you to continue to give sage advice to all and sundry.

  4. TNT could benefit from a better tourism industry, but just like everything else, there would be just more fighting over who should come, how many, and who they should visit amongst other issues that seperate the country. TNT could benefit, but unless some creative, smart, transparent, and bipartisan visionaries are apart of the process, it will never happen.

  5. “Let me try to put our tourism in some perspective. According to the Caribbean Tourism Organisation (CTO), this country hosted 158,000 visitors between January and May 2010. If we assume a steady flow throughout the year, we may have had around 400,000 visitors last year. In contrast, Barbados welcomed 532,000 visitors, the Bahamas 1.3 million, Jamaica 1.9 million, Cuba 2.5 million and the Dominican Republic 4.1 million”

    That is what makes T&T number one for tourist, it remains undiscovered. But seriously, the only marketing T&T got in last 7 years was a high murder rate. With the internet news travel real fast. If crime can be contained, then the visitors to T&T will increase considerably. In addition what is need is strategic planning. In the U.S. they have a gas station, washrooms and eatery at strategic distance for the traveller. To maximize tourist spending, there has to be some proper road side outlets that can be accessed easily on the way to the airport. Sovineer of all kind can be produced and marketed. Trinis are very, very creative people and this should be easy.

    In addition to low crime rate, all tourist destination in T&T must have clean washrooms (you can charge per use), stay over inns, and some good recreational facilities for children and adults. Identify these destinations and widen the roads leading to these places so that busses can take tourist there for those who prefer to come and soak up the sun, sand and beach.

  6. “That is what makes T&T number one for tourist, it remains undiscovered? In essence -pretense at joke or not-Trinidad was undiscovered until Her majesty , Queen K , and her regime ,entered the scene, 2 years ago, ennnt?
    Tell me anyone, did this guy finish primary school,or is he simply a paid operative parrot, for ,neo tribal ,fringe lunatics, trying too desperately to fool desperate folks ,that we have taken two step forward ,and not 12 backward as a nation?
    Just ,listen to the party fanatic , mamboo again,sas he sip on his Oropuche babash ,and pretend to be an expert. “If crime can be contained, then the visitors to T&T will increase considerably.” Can someone please tell this comedian , that since 1962, more people die on a daily basis ,within his adored places of choices,a la ,North America,and Europe , than all of T&T put together, and tourists ,are not the dumb unsophisticated idiots, him and his kind, seem to think they are, and would not simply shy away from a country due to crime rates.
    The fundamental question is , what are you offering? Is it sex, sun, salt ,pitch lake , dead birds in the Caroni sanctuary, or fragmented , fake religious culture? Who are you targeting , 90 year old ship tourist, who come on shore for ten seconds, then run back indoors for their , tans and massages?
    People want to visit a society that make them forget the dreary enclaves ,from which they came from , or the boring work , and often families, they leave behind. What deals can you offer , from airline travels , to accommodation , and transport packages?
    Tell you what ,unlike us ,in T&T ,dem Bajans , and Jamaicans neighbors of ours , are not the spoiled , unpatriotic, politically childish , racially confused , resource ladened , happy go lucky people, that we are, and so they can collectively work to ensure that tourist feels welcome,and enjoy something national , yet ethnically different in diverse enclaves , without having to feel the need to eventually see their therapist ,upon returning to their respective home countries.
    Hear him,again “widen the roads so busses can take a tourist to soak up sun , sand and beach.” Are these not the same jokers , who were against a rapid rail system ,that might have eased daily congestion on our roads, and make us take that important step ,to modernity? Oh no , that would antagonize too many farmers , as they presently wish to use their state obtained lands, not to plant food, but host Bar B Que extravaganzas,or curry duck oil downs, and likewise, open Wholesale Supermarket, in efforts, to pedal cheap , imports. Go figure.
    Barbados is what ,50 miles bigger than Tobago , with quarter of the natural beauty,irrespective to the over the top mantras, of many of them, and yet they beat out our Twin Republic , on all fronts, economically, or otherwise.
    Again,if you are not too drunk to think, you’ll know why mamboo. Here is a test for you . If a German , or Brit ,gets a belly pain in Barbados,do they have to fly to a neighboring island to get relief? Every year since 2001,Jamaica has over 5000 murders, coupled with a multitude of crimes, that our fake/ cowardly criminals ,cannot even dream about , and yet , well … fill in the blanks.
    For the record , they do not need curfews to halt crimes. Tell your leaders , and people ,to finally embrace the concept , one nation, and look at the bountiful results instead.
    So each time some unmentionable , self serving fool,hits the distant shores, and cry in wolflike fashion the expression genocide, knowing fully well , the stupid accusation can never , be substantiated with any cogent evidence , that will do more harm, as far as driving away tourists, than all the lack of water ,and toilets ,which you have erroneously alluded to.

  7. 532,000 because everybody who passes thru T&T on the way to some other island has/had to fill an immigration form!

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