US crisis may hit Tobago tourism


Tobago’s leisure tourism will be seriously challenged in light of the US financial collapse, but Trinidad’s business tourism will be less vulnerable, tourism expert John Bell says.

Bell, the adviser to former tourism minister Howard Chin Lee, said Tobago may feel the impact of the collapse as soon as the start of the winter season, which runs from November 2008 to April next year.

Three weeks ago, financial markets in the United States were gripped by a crisis after two major investment houses-Lehman Bros and Merrill Lynch-failed when they suffered billions of dollars in losses because of bad mortgage and real estate deals.

“We’ve got a very difficult year coming because of the whole collapse of the US system. It is going to dry up the American travel market,” Bell told the Express.

“The collapse has already spread across the Atlantic to a couple European banks. That travel market will be constricted as well, but not as bad as the US.

“The constriction of airlift coming into the Caribbean and a very fragile economy in all of the source markets (tourist) will definitely have a negative impact on Caribbean tourism.”

Pinpointing Tobago, Bell said: “Tobago has a serious problem because of the fact that there are only one or two hotels that are of substantial quality. What Tobago desperately needs is another 1,500 quality hotel rooms of a branded nature that are of a superior quality.

“Then there is the problem of the European airlines cutting back flights to the country. Monarch is coming on board but I’m not sure how much that is going to help.”

Last week, Tobago House of Assembly (THA) Tourism and Transportation Secretary, Neil Wilson, confirmed that Monarch Airlines will begin servicing Tobago from December 17.

The airline will replace British-owned Excel Airways, which had announced it was pulling out of Tobago from November in preference to Miami, since the Gatwick-Caribbean route was not lucrative.

Excel had also said it would end its services to Antigua, Barbados, Grenada, St Kitts and St Lucia.

Wilson added that the THA had reached an agreement with Condor, which operates out of Germany, to hold 200 seats exclusively for Tobago passengers. Condor will replace Martin Air, which withdrew operations earlier this year. The airline, which operated out of Amsterdam, the Netherlands, serviced the Scandinavian countries

As for Trinidad, Bell, the former general director and chief executive director of the Caribbean Hotel Association (CHA), said: “People who are coming down to attend a business meeting or conference will be coming anyway. There will be some reduction but a lot less.”

His advice is that the entire region adapt to the reduction of airlift and demand for rooms and find a way to live with the situation.

“It’s always the same thing, those that have really done their homework will do quite well but does who have not won’t.”