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Crime and Tourism
Posted: Sunday, January 9, 2011

By Derren Joseph
January 09, 2011

Last week, I deliberately avoided touching the issue of the Greens who were the victim of crime in Tobago. Rather I preferred to study the details as they came to light. Last weekend, as our family relaxed at Salybia Nature Resort and Spa, I stumbled across an insightful interview in a weekly newspaper. The interview with a former Director of the Tourism Development Company (TDC) included some of the actual email exchanges, which helped clarify some of the grey areas in the story.

From a wider perspective, some commentators pointed to crime in general, and cried doom and gloom on an already underperforming tourism sector. They prophesied that the continued publicity surrounding this event would destroy what is left of Tobagoís tourism in particular. Is this the case? Let me briefly touch on three points – crime, the press and marketing.

Firstly if you look at the per capita murder statistics on the Nationmaster website, it comes as no surprise that the top 3 in the world are Colombia, Jamaica and South Africa. But what tends to come as a surprise is that the only English speaking Caribbean destination to consistently deliver growth in visitor numbers over the past few difficult years is Jamaica. Colombia continues to defy the world recession (and civil war with FARC etc) to deliver growth in their arrivals. Do not get me wrong, crime is a serious issue that needs to be dealt with. From a tourism perspective however, some argue that crime means more intelligent and strategic marketing. Colombia's tag line is – 'The only risk, is wanting to stay'.

Secondly it may be worth having a closer look at the situation in South Africa in particular. According to some websites, South Africa is among the top 5 when it comes to murder, robberies, rape and kidnapping. Yet their tourism numbers are still strong? In September 2009, the TDC hosted a conference facilitated by South African Rick Taylor, CEO of the Business Tourism Company. One point that he made was that there is a tacit agreement by the South African press, to minimise gory newspaper headlines. The press understood that they were not just affecting the local psyche and economy, but also damaging the image of their country overseas. I have also been told that in Jamaica, there is also such a tacit agreement – especially online. Please note that I am not in any way advocating censorship – simply pointing out the experience of other destinations.

Looking at Jamaica and South Africa, we recognize that there is a limit to which we could blame crime for poor tourism performance. This leads us right back to the third and perhaps most important point - marketing.

There is still no agreement as to how we should brand Trinidad, Tobago and of course, Trinidad and Tobago. Yes our marketing budget is only US$10 million which is closer to tiny Dominica's budget of US$4.5 while the Jamaica Tourist Board budgeted just under US$30 million for marketing in 2010. Barbados is usually around US$50 million. Yet it is more than just money as we still have a complex product proposition with separate and often inconsistent messages.

As I have mentioned in a previous column, for long haul tropical destinations like ours, it is not sufficient to look at how and how much a destination's tourist board spends. It is also important to look at how and how much a destinationís hotels spend. Public-Private Partnerships are key. I remember when I worked in the UK travel industry – everyone knew that there were Caribbean hotel chains with budgets larger than many countries. Jamaica-based Sandals and Beaches is rumored to spend between US$30 - $80 million (depending on who is whispering) annually in marketing. I remember one year in the UK, when they gave away cars (yes, plural) to the top selling travel agents. With incentives like that, which destination and which hotels do you think the average travel agent would switch sell?

Bottom line is that this is not the end of our tourism. No nearby destination has been demonized as much as Aruba after the 2005 disappearance of American holidaymaker – Natalee Holloway. They even made a movie about the case and Aruba still performs well. The key is true partnership between private and public sector stakeholders to agree a single, consistent, well financed message.

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.

Derren is a travel and tourism consultant. The views and opinions expressed here are solely the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views of any company or institution affiliated with the writer.

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