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Tourism and Safety
Posted: Tuesday, October 19, 2010

By Derren Joseph
October 19, 2010

In 2007, Yanik Quesnel was almost killed when a pirogue (small boat) struck him and his girlfriend, Spanish-national Ana Carolina Barry-Laso while they were bathing at Pigeon Point Beach in Tobago. Last week, Justice Judith Jones ruled against the Tobago House of Assembly (THA); Pigeon Point Heritage Park Ltd which manages and controls facilities at Pigeon Point for the THA; and the Attorney General. Justice Jones said that these entities were in breach of ensuring that visitors to the park were protected.

In 2006 my former employer and one of the world’s largest vertically integrated travel companies, Thomas Cook, sold a holiday to British couple Neil Shepherd and Sharon Wood which included hotel accommodation on the island of Corfu in Greece. Neil and Sharon took their 7 year old son and 6 year old daughter on holiday with them. A faulty boiler, leaked gas into their room killing their two children.

In May 2010 a court found 4 out of 9 Greek defendants guilty of manslaughter by negligence and of causing grievous bodily harm by negligence. The Hotel Manager, the head of the hotel technical department, and the hotel electrician were each sentenced to seven years in jail. A civil engineer was given two years probation for breaching building regulations. The lead judge in the trial said the two Thomas Cook representatives were misinformed by the hotel manager and were not responsible. I want to emphasize that even employees from Thomas Cook, the company that sold the holiday, were put on trial.

The point of this column is that if we are serious about tourism, we have to be serious about the Health and Safety of our guests – both domestic and foreign. We depend on the European market for visitors – particularly the UK. There, the EU Package Travel Directive (PTD) protects the rights of consumers against the suppliers (agents and principals) of package travel arrangements. Remember that most European holidaymakers to the Southern Caribbean, including Tobago, come on package holidays. For those who will point to the growing trend for these holidaymakers to package their own holidays using the internet, I would reply that the PTD is being reviewed in order to cover what the industry calls “dynamic packaging”. Dynamic packaging would include the holidaymaker packaging their own holiday using the web.

Some argue that the PTD has had unintended consequences such as encouraging package holidays and therefore the continued dominance of the opaque outbound tour operator model. While it is easy to point to the deterrence posed by rising crime (which is largely a separate issue), there are safety issues which are within the control of the industry.

As destination Trinidad and Tobago, we should be aware of 3 things. Firstly, facility managers need to pay attention to the obvious. Remember adequate signage (multilingual), proper lighting, warnings where necessary, adhere to certification standards (everyone should be certified), and generally follow the advice of qualified Health and Safety professionals.

Secondly, given the trend towards customer direct bookings over the web, we should consider the safety of our customer’s money. The only local online payment gateway is Scotia (that is, they allow “card not present” transactions) but their fees (upfront, monthly maintenance and per transaction) are quite high (especially for smaller operators). Paypal still does not recognize Trinidad and Tobago as a “merchant” location (so service providers cannot transfer funds received, from Paypal to their local bank account). Alternatives are problematic, do not have trusted brand names and do not allow quick retrieval of funds by the vendor. The payment mechanism must also allow for easy but fair cancellation / refund options. Trust is important given the risks inherent in online payments.

Thirdly, despite the difficulties, we should continue to align ourselves with the big European tour operators. This means lifting our standards to at least their level. Remember that their reputation is on the line when they sell our destination. Remember also, that the operator can be held legally liable.

I maintain that the problems facing our tourism industry are complex and remind me of the old Indian story of the blind men and the elephant. It has been a few years but I recall that one man likened the beast to a snake, the other to a tree trunk, the other to a big wall and so on. Each was partially correct but none had the complete solution. Similarly, each tourism stakeholder has an important piece of the bigger puzzle, but only by coming together can we all then see the complete picture.

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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