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Are We Too 'Nasty' for Tourism?
Posted: Tuesday, October 5, 2010

By Derren Joseph
October 05, 2010

Each year, September is recognized as World Tourism Month and World Tourism Day was on September 27th. In September, our Ministry of Tourism hosted a series of public lectures on the theme 'Tourism and Biodiversity'. I attended the one held at Queens Hall a couple weeks ago in which a member of the audience used the term "nasty" to describe our treatment of the environment and suggested that we are perhaps not yet ready for "serious" tourism.

When I first heard that comment I was somewhat taken aback. The contributor referenced a previous beach clean-up activity at Hart's Cut Bay which collected some 30 garbage bags of litter. She went on to describe the "filthy" condition of parts of the North East coast after long holiday weekends which see an influx of domestic tourists. She said that residents are left "stressed out" by visitors. I thought she was exaggerating but I soon realized that I was the one who may have been mistaken.

Saturday 25th was one of the days globally designated for International Coastal Cleanup 2010. Even though I live in the West, we decided to drive to Las Cuevas to support the Tourism Development Company (TDC) led activity at that beach. After the first 15 minutes I remembered the "nasty" comment from Queens Hall. Las Cuevas is probably one of the better maintained beach facilities but after 15 minutes I wondered whether there was any point to keeping track of the number of broken glass bottles we were finding. It was somewhat depressing to see groups pulling out car tires, car batteries, a rusty anchor and so on.

One audience member at the Queens Hall public lecture was an Environmental Science marker for CAPE. She described an essay written by a Trinidadian student on the wolf and the moose as examples of endangered species. Apparently, some of our students do not know about the manatee and the other treasures we have in our Nariva and Caroni Swamps. After praising the TDC's Tourism Park initiative that promotes domestic tourism, the points being made by several audience members became clear – we must start with "us first" if we are serious about tourism!

I know some very experienced local industry professionals who passionately agree that rather than focus almost single-mindedly on attracting people from overseas, we must also get our own house in order. Now let us consider the UK. Trinidad and Tobago has a tourism sector that is structurally closer to the UK than to the tourism sectors in our neighbouring islands, both politically and economically. Politically; in that they also worry about brand UK versus brand London versus brand Scotland (reminiscent of our local industry debates over brand T&T versus brand Port of Spain versus brand Tobago). Economically; in that between 60% and 70% of the direct economic contribution for both T&T and the UK comes from domestic tourism.

Writing on his blog (yes, he has a blog which is another subject for another column), UK Tourism Minister John Penrose recently pat himself on the back for his "staycation" initiative over the summer. By way of background, I should say that one of the first moves from the new tourism minister from the new coalition government was to throw his support behind domestic tourism, despite the complaints from stakeholders involved in outbound and inbound UK tourism.

Penrose said: "It seems that 87% of what they call 'operators' declared themselves to be satisfied with how business had been across the summer, with around three quarters saying that business had 'either increased or stayed the same compared to the same period in 2009'. This is good stuff."

I would support a sustained domestic tourism drive here in T&T for many reasons but today I would just point to three (3) distinct benefits. Firstly, it would reduce leakages as a 2008 study estimated Trinidadians travelling overseas spend about TT$2 billion annually which is ironically similar to the $2 billion that the Central Statistical Office (CSO) estimates that foreigners spend on annual visits to T&T. Secondly, by raising demand for "consumption" of local sites and attractions, it helps incentivize "product" owners to enhance the quality of their product offering in a way that would be difficult for the state to emulate through subsidies. Thirdly and most importantly, it could help us to understand and treasure what we have and so often take for granted. In other words – it may help us be less "nasty" in how we treat with our environment.

My name is Derren Joseph and I love my country. As always, I end by saying that despite our challenges, we are so blessed to live in this beautiful land. Let us continue to have the audacity of hope in the future of our beloved country.

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