Tobago tourism stakeholders demand government rescue


Local tourism stakeholders are set to demand more investment from Central Government to launch a sustained destination marketing and branding campaign for Tobago.

With the island grappling with low tourist arrivals and low hotel occcupancy, Minister of Tourism Rupert Griffith has called the stakeholders to a meeting at the Ministry of Tourism headquarters on Duke Street, Port of Spain, tomorrow at 2 p.m.

In a report in the last week’s Sunday Express, Tobago hoteliers, restaurateurs, realtors and related businesses said the situation was threatening to destroy Tobago’s economy.

Also expected at tomorrow’s meeting are Minister of Tobago Development Vernella Alleyne-Toppin, Tobago House of Assembly (THA) Chief Secretary Orville London, THA Tourism Secretary Oswald Williams and Tourism Development Company (TDC) chairman Stanley Beard.

Griffith has also summoned president of the Tobago Hotel and Tourism Association (THTA) Carol Ann Birchwood-James, as well as vice president Chris James.

President of Trinidad Hotels, Restaurants and Tourism Association Michelle Palmer-Keizer and vice-president Kevin Kenny will also be at the meeting.

Despite an on-going public spat involving the THA and UK couple Peter and Murium Green, who were chopped across the face on August 1, 2009 at their Bacolet villa, various industry officials say crime is not the most pressing issue for Tobago’s tourism.

They point out that Jamaica has a much higher crime rate than Trinidad and Tobago but that that island’s tourism fortunes are on the rise, including a six per cent increase in tourist arrivals in December. Jamaica was voted Best Caribbean Destination by readers of US travel industry magazine Travel Weekly On December 16.

“We all want the crime situation to improve but it would be foolish to think we are the only ones suffering from an increase in crime.

“So yes, we need to put all measures in place to improve the crime situation for both locals and visitors but as the Green issue has emphasised, we also need professional public relations intervention to deal with problems to the satisfaction of all,” one official said.

An industry source, who asked not to be identified, said one of the main points to be discussed at tomorrow’s meeting will be destination marketing and branding of Tobago.

The stakeholders will also seek to convince the Government to encourage investment for refurbishment of existing hotels and guest houses as well as the completion of new hotels like the Vanguard and Crown Reef Hotel, to bring the available room stock to 1,500 on the island.

The source said tourism in Tobago reached its peak in 2005 and was “envied by our neighbours in the region but has now become the laughing stock, and THA is blaming everything and everyone except themselves.”

He said the Government’s destination marketing campaign to date has “failed miserably” and that Tobago must be branded separately with a good creative advertisement campaign.

Caribbean Tourism Organisation (CTO) figures showed T&T spent US$12 million on direct media marketing in 2010 while tourism contributed TT$5.4 billion to Gross Domestic Product.

Employment opportunities through tourism (some 100,000 direct and indirect in Trinidad and Tobago) and the benefits from direct foreign investment could help develop Tobago.

“We need to act now. Resurrection is always more costly than intervention,” the source said.

CTO figures also show Trinidad and Tobago only attracted two per cent of the 23 million international visitors to the region last year. Tobago, on its own, saw less than half of that two per cent.

Tobago has also suffered from a sustained decline over the last four years in room rates while rates in other Caribbean islands have increased two to three per cent.

Tourism officials will also raise the issue of the land licence, which sources noted took three and a half years to put in place and which, they claim, has destroyed investor confidence.

“So you now have a situation where existing properties cannot access money to renovate their properties because the value of their properties is limited to a local value and not a market value,” noted one source.

Even the local banks have baulked at investing in tourism, leaving a situation where projects stopped by the imposition of the land licence are on hold because of a lack of investor confidence, the source added,

Other hoteliers have also pointed out that other Caribbean countries, like Barbados and Jamaica, have better tax concessions and other incentives that make it difficult for Tobago to have similar offers.

They cite as an example the fact that Trinidad and Tobago has a 35 per cent duty on wine while most other Caribbean islands have no duty on wine and many other consumables.

“The Government has stated they want to diversify the economy, and tourism is one of the pillars they have identified.

“They do not seem to grasp the fact that tourism marketing can help brand Trinidad and Tobago and create an export industry,” one hotelier said.