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Listen to voice of the people
Posted: Monday, February 14, 2011

By Derren Joseph
February 15, 2011

One thing about travel and tourism marketing is that there is absolutely nowhere to hide. Anyone and everyone can judge success or failure at a glance. From a Caribbean tourism point of view, the Guardian carried this headline a couple weeks ago–"Caribbean touts tourism surge not seen since '08". The article went on to say that the Caribbean is attracting tourists in numbers not seen since the start of the global economic crisis, with several islands boasting new records. More than 23 million tourists visited the region in 2010, a nearly five per cent increase from the 22.1 million that visited the previous year, according to the Caribbean Tourism Organisation (CTO). The tiny Eastern Caribbean islands of Anguilla and St Lucia drew hordes of tourists from Canada and the US and posted double-digit increases.

The wider Caribbean and Central American region shows a variety of destinations outperforming Trinidad and Tobago. Such destinations include one that faced severe and well publicised civil unrest in its capital together with a crime surge worse than ours. There was also a destination that was severely affected by a hurricane and another destination that has recovered from a highly publicised disease outbreak with double digit tourism growth. Against such a backdrop, there can really be no excuse for our relatively poor performance.

Previously, I have spoken about the need for tourism decision makers to listen to stakeholders. Fortunately, some tourism decision makers have started to listen. E-TecK is hosting Vanguard Hotel Limited Stakeholder Engagement Meetings. The purpose of the meeting is to share with key stakeholders, E-TecK’s strategy for obtaining an investor/operator for the hotel and the Investment Opportunity marketing tools proposed to support the RFP process. Well done E-Teck! Listen to the people! In this spirit, I thought I would give voice to some of the feedback that routinely finds its way to my inbox and to my ears from stakeholders.

Eco-tourism. Last week, a well known local eco-tourism stakeholder could barely contain his disbelief as he wondered why we still seek to compare and compete with other Caribbean islands when our flora and fauna is closer to that of South America. Our northern range offers ‘product’ that so clearly differentiates us. Yet this seems to remain a secret.

Cultural tourism. I received an email about a panel discussion on Cultural Tourism taking place recently at the Trinidad and Tobago Hospitality and Tourism Institute (TTHTI). Included in the panel were Dr Finkel and Dr Sweeney from Queen Margaret University. Kudos to the TTHTI. Unfortunately, I could not make it but as I read the email I tried to remember just how many similar discussions were held over the past couple years alone. I also remembered Dr Nurse’s research published in February 2010 that reported mas players spending about $93.4 million, and that fetes earn over $500 million as part of a total Carnival economic contribution of $1.3 billion.

Beyond tourism, I can easily see an entire socio-economic developmental policy that could be wrapped around our festivals (I am seeing at least one major festival each month) which includes Eid, Divali, Borough Day, We Beat, Tobago Heritage etc.

Cruise ships. In a popular yahoo group, in discussing our tourism situation, one commentator wrote that "Port-of-Spain is dirty, dangerous, run down, overcrowded, unattractive, lacking interesting sites, museums, shops, foods, fruits, handicraft, day tours, and cultural attractions…That is our story of Trinidad tourism."

In this context, there was once talk of relocating our cruise ship terminal to Chaguaramas–away from the traffic etc and in Chaguaramas, develop a network of artisans, a permanent ‘festival’ village, include eco-tours to nearby trails and so on. This idea is among the many that seems to have gone quiet over time.

In conclusion, the one thing that is clear to even the most casual observer is the apparent absence of a workable tourism development plan. A Tobago hotelier explained to me that in 1995, a Tourism Master Plan was completed by a Canadian Company, ARA Consultants for the Government, with some stakeholder input. He suggested that this plan be taken off the shelf, dusted, reviewed, tweaked and brought back to the stakeholders.

Perhaps this Tobago stakeholder has a point worth considering. It is time that tourism decision makers listened to the people. 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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