By Derren Joseph
August 04, 2010
Last week, the press carried a story about Deputy House Speaker Dr Fuad Khan urging Trinidadians to spend a portion of their vacation time in Tobago to boost the tourism industry in the sister island. The press report went on to say that occupancy rates at hotels are expected to drop as low as 15% in the coming months.
The week before, the press reported the statements of the Tobago Hotel and Tourism Association President, Ms Carol-Ann Birchwood James who also described occupancy levels in Tobago as “dismal”. She also focused on the importance of the Trinidad market in supporting the Tobago Tourism Economy. Ms James cited a 2008 study that revealed that 80% of visitors to Tobago are Trinidadian and that the estimated size of the domestic travel and tourism sector is TT$4 billion.
Now when one considers 2007 numbers published by our Central Statistical Office (CSO) on overseas visitors (visitor numbers by destination and average spend by destination), we get a more holistic picture of the (direct) travel and tourism economy. The CSO estimates that overseas visitors spent about TT$1.7 billion in Trinidad and Tobago in 2007. So when we combine domestic and foreign, we have a Travel and Tourism economy with a total direct spend of roughly TT$5.7 billion, with the domestic component comprising about 70%.
This is not so dissimilar to the UK, where according to Tourism Alliance, domestic tourism makes up about 60% of the overall travel and tourism economy. From a government policy point of view, the new UK coalition government sees tourism as a key component in their bid to revive their economy and Tourism Minister John Penrose has repeatedly declared a “domestic focus” resulting in the term “staycation” becoming increasingly popular.
In Trinidad and Tobago, we are also serious about leveraging the tourism sector in our bid to drive economic growth. In so doing, we cannot overlook an advantage we have over our regional neighbours – we have a wealthy domestic market so our sector structure may actually have more in common with the UK than our island neighbours. I am told that ticket sales for the Beyonce concert earlier this year in Trinidad, were stronger that ticket sales in the previous legs of her tour. I am also told that the post summit cruises last year also sold out relatively quickly and that we Trinis “buss de bar”. Such is the strength of our local market. I repeat – T&T’s tourism industry structure may have more in common with the UK than neighbouring Caribbean islands. This is why domestic tourism or staycations must be a key focus for us.
Some years ago, I remember St Lucia’s Tourism Minister, Allen Chastanet, asking that we as a region, stop simply pointing to visitor numbers as a measure of our industry’s performance. Rather we need to focus on total spend. I am pleased to see this happening. When we move beyond the visitor numbers game, we begin to see tourism as a system for driving national pride, economic growth and development – resulting in a tourism strategy that goes beyond overseas marketing.
If we take a regional perspective, incoming President of the Caribbean Hotel and Tourist Association (CHTA), Josef Forstmayr, in a recent interview for the Jamaica Observer, was clear about tourism being a big economic driver for the Caribbean. With that in mind, one of his priorities is what he called “focusing on the supply side”. Specifically he wants to promote linkages between the hotels and the wider economy in a way that sees greater economic benefits for local farmers, and local service providers. Again, there is a shift away from simply looking at visitor numbers to maximizing the overall economic benefit of every “visitor”.
In closing, let us remember that Tobago needs our help. The THA has created a $26 million fund for hotels, restaurants and tour operators to tap into. But as we make plans for August, let us remember all that Tobago has to offer and make her our destination of choice. Check out www.discovertnt.com, www.visittobago.gov.tt, www.gotrinidadandtobago.com or www.mytobago.info for help with those holiday ideas.
On Facebook, there is www.facebook.com/islandsoftrinidadandtobago. August 2nd to the 29th is Tour and Explore 2010 which is facilitated by the Tourism Development Company Ltd, the Trinidad and Tobago Incoming Tour Operators Association and the Ministry of Tourism. It promises to be a series of exciting tours to local sites and attractions. For those not on Facebook, details should be advertised in the press.
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 our country, as we embark upon the next chapter in our nation’s history.