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The Trinidad & Tobago Business Guide (TTBG, 2009-10)

48 TTBG

48 TTBG 09/10 (This page) Masqerader, Carnival Tuesday (Opposite page) Steelpan, Carnival Tuesday

TOURISM Work to be done Trinidad and Tobago could be a major world tourism destination. There are very specific reasons why that hasn’t happened — yet By John Bell • Economic recession in all the Caribbean’s primary source markets is bound to reduce travel expenditure across the board • The mothballing of many airlines’ least fuel-efficient equipment is reducing airlift in the Caribbean • Increased crime across the Caribbean, and particularly in Trinidad and Tobago, is a serious problem • Perhaps most damaging of all, the continued strengthening of the US dollar makes Europe much more affordable for Americans, and the Caribbean much more expensive for Europeans. In the last half century, tourism has expanded dramatically across the Caribbean, indeed across the whole world. But in Trinidad and Tobago it has remained largely nascent. In 2007, the latest year for which statistics are available, Trinidad and Tobago received 449,453 stopover visitors according to the Tourism Development Company, down 3 per cent from 2005: that represents less than 2 per cent of total Caribbean visitors. Trinidad and Tobago’s cruise passenger arrivals rose by 12 per cent to 75,111. While Trinidad lacks the basic sun, sand and sea credentials that have served the rest of the region so well, it is rich in other ways— with mountains, rivers, waterfalls, swamps and a variety of wildlife that, as in Costa Rica, offers its own range of attractions. Tobago, of course, has it all in abundance. It is the political will that has historically been lacking. During the sixties and seventies, while most of the other islands were aggressively developing their tourist industries, Trinidad deliberately held back. Prime Minister Eric Williams poured scorn on the industry with such judgments as “tourism is whore-ism” and “the creation of a nation of bus boys”. Contempt left an indelible pall on the psyche of the nation that is only now beginning to lift. Today, as the need for economic diversification becomes ever more obvious, much more work still has to be done to clean that slate. There are many people who take the view that if it required a prime minister to discredit the industry so effectively, it will need another to breathe new life into it. Be that as it may, tourism in Trinidad and Tobago has come far beyond the time for empty platitudes; solid action with demonstrable results is the only thing that can now make a difference. Outlook The prospects for 2009 seem bleak, however; some in the industry are calling it the perfect storm. By the end of 2008, a dramatic fall-off in visitor arrivals had already been reported in the northern Caribbean, which is heavily dependent on the US market; major chains like Sandals and Super Clubs announced staff layoffs of up to 10 per cent, unheard of at the beginning of a winter season. The eastern Caribbean, much less dependent on the US market, is also bound to be challenged, but Trinidad and Tobago has come far beyond the time for empty platitudes; solid action with demonstrable results is the only thing that can now make a difference perhaps not so severely. The duration of the global recession is anyone’s guess. But informed opinion seems to see it lifting in the second half of 2009, with a return to something like normality in 2010. Tourism has always been much more durable than it is given credit for, and will continue to bounce back. In the 21st century, the need to travel and explore the world in which we live has become a human right, so the Caribbean may well see a resurgence of travel by the beginning of the 2009/2010 winter season. Such a tourism bounce, however, should not be taken for granted. The intervening months provide an opportunity to refurbish the product in all its forms, and the Trinidad and Tobago government must, for the first time, put in place an adequately funded, professional marketing programme. 09/10 TTBG 49

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