Carnival 2018 is turning out to be a blessing for some stakeholders in the hospitality sector in Tobago, while for others reporting slow bookings, problems with air and sea transport remain a major challenge.
For Beverly’s Oasis Suites in Lowlands, the news is good, with a spokesman saying bookings were significantly up for the Carnival season.
“Occupancy for Christmas and now Carnival for us has been very well. For Carnival we are sold out already. We boosted and maintained our customer service level…Over here we focus on customer service, that’s why our s happily return,” the spokesman said.
At Sunshine Holiday Apartments in Bon Accord, the news was not so good.
“It’s pretty slow. We have a lot of rooms that are still empty, and that’s very bad for us, knowing Carnival is around the corner. I don’t think we are at 50 per cent with our occupancy rate.
"There is nothing we can do. We barely advertise, since we more depend on word of mouth, where customers would recommend us to others. Things are so slow that we don’t want to risk spending money on advertising when people can’t get here,” a spokesman said, referring to problems with domestic visitors getting to Tobago and back to Trinidad via the air and sea bridge.
For Plantations Beach Villas, transport problems have not affected the return of regular customers, who are mostly international visitors, for Carnival, but Easter might pose a problem.
“For Carnival we have a quite high occupancy. We are still empty for Easter, though. Carnival is quite good, but I can tell you with the air and sea bridge, since July last, we have seen the Trinidad market telling us that they are not coming here until the air and sea bridge is sorted out. Our high occupancy for February is our international market. This time of year, we believe we will do okay with the foreign guests, but the Trinidadians are boycotting Tobago for now.
“In November we spent an entire month without a soul on the property, with 12 employees to pay. We depend on the local market, and if we go through Easter low we will be in plenty trouble.”
At Sun Spree Resort on Store Bay Local Road, a spokesman said a strategy of advertising more on social media has helped increase occupancy slightly.
“We never really used to focus on Facebook advertising, but now we do. We are also advertising on Discover Tobago, Inns and Outs and SkyView. Right now, for Carnival our occupancy rate is about 50 per cent,” said the spokesman, adding that the air and sea bridge problems were responsible for low occupancy rate.
“When people call to make bookings, they are not sure if they will be able to reach on time or get back home, so they don’t bother to come. For August we had a lot of cancellations because of that.”
At Store Bay Holidays in Crown Point, the occupancy rate was “in-between,” with a spokesman saying, however, that the resort was almost filled for the Carnival weekend.
“We have three empty rooms left. The persons that we have normally come every Carnival,” the spokesman said, adding that there had been some cancellations because potential guests were “getting flights to come to Tobago but none to return home.”
President of the Tobago Unique Bed and Breakfast and Self-Catering Association Kaye Trotman says the sea and air bridge issue must be resolved for occupancy to increase, but she believes there is still time beforeCarnival Monday and Tuesday.
“Many people have around 40 per cent, but it’s not as active as it has been. I guess there is still time. Last year we were more heavily booked but at present it is still low,” she reported.
“We are hoping to either get people who are coming over for the cool-down after Carnival, or others who usually run away for Carnival to camp but even with that, (problems with) the air and sea bridges would still be an issue.
“Even for international visitors (visiting Tobago) the issue is, when they get to Trinidad, how do they get to Tobago?”
Trotman says the only solution is to wait for a new ferry, and that “there is nothing we can do for the sea bridge with these existing vessels. We have tried repairs and they continue to break down, so I don’t think there is anything else that could be done.
“For the air bridge, Caribbean Airlines needs to look at its reservation system again, that it could be configured in a way that would work to our benefit. I don’t think that the $50 charge needs to come in, because once the ticket has been used, there must be some way to identify this change.
“They (CAL) should also try selling open tickets so that the reservations system would not be clogged because there would be no date. People would show up and if a standby flight is available they would get on. They would not have the authority to quarrel with CAL, because they know they are trying their luck with the open ticket.”