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Tourism Will Rise
Posted: Wednesday, February 9, 2011

By Derren Joseph
February 09, 2011

Many tourism stakeholders here in Trinidad and Tobago have a pessimistic outlook. Is it that stakeholders have good reason to be frustrated? Firstly, last September the business section of another newspaper clearly demonstrated that starting from 1995,visitor arrivals to Trinidad and Tobago showed an upward trend, peaked in 2005 and since then, have been in decline. With these numbers, we immediately dismiss one myth. Our tourism decline predates the current global economic turmoil. The cause of the decline in our arrivals is not simply due to external forces. Local tourism decision makers are at least partly to blame. Secondly, last December, the Caribbean Tourism Organisation (CTO) released provisional 2010 numbers. Focusing on stay-overs as opposed to cruise visitors (my personal bias I must confess), the numbers confirm what most expected. While Trinidad and Tobago showed a downward trend, Barbados rebounded and was up 3.8 per cent (January to October), St Lucia was up 15.4 per cent (January to October) and that powerhouse called Jamaica was up 4 per cent (January to August) to 1.4 million visitors. So countries battered by hurricanes and civil unrest show better results than Trinidad and Tobago?

Thirdly, many fingers are firmly pointed at our tourism 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. Most importantly however, is an apparent inability to connect marketing initiatives to actual results. To me this inability is at the heart of the matter. If we cannot demonstrate or quantify the effectiveness of the US$10 million we spend, in these hard times, should anyone simply give tourism decision makers more? More specifically, if our present approach to spending the US$10 million is showing negative results year after year after year after year, and yet there is no apparent change in strategy, should anyone simply be given more? This reminds me of a quote popularly attributed to Albert Einstein—"insanity is defined as doing the same thing over and over again but expecting different results."

Nevertheless, this column is entitled 'Tourism Will Rise' and there is a reason for that. Yes I am unashamedly optimistic when it comes to tourism. I am optimistic because moreso now than ever before, there is a recognition that tourism must be taken seriously as we seek to diversify away from our energy dependence. I am optimistic because there is now a recognition that our present tourism strategy is ineffective and needs to be held up to the light of scrutiny. I am optimistic because I see so many within the tourism stakeholder community uniting and with a single voice calling for changes. With a new Board of Directors recently installed at our Tourist Board, I am confident that the changes that stakeholders are calling for will come. A couple weeks back I was in Grenada on business and pulled into a gas station to fill the tank in my rental car. I started a friendly banter with the gas station attendant who asked me where I was from. I said "Trinidad; and we make good company." To my surprise he took the bait and we both burst into spontaneous song, singing Benjai's hit—"Cause they love how Trini does look, look, look, look, look; And they like how Trini does cook, cook, cook, cook, cook; And they like to hear Trini talk, talk, talk, talk, talk; And they like Trini woman wuk, wuk, wuk, wuk, wuk, wuk, wuk, wuk, wuk, wuk, wuk, wuk, wuk And we make good company, and we make good company, and we make good company."

The Lord knows I am biased but there is something so unique and special about this beautiful twin island Republic and it would be a shame to not do our best to share what we have with the world. Saturday February 12, St Mary's College Past Students Union (624-8468) is hosting an important fund-raiser—Fete With The Saints at the school compound. Join me in chanting—Iza Trini! 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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