TRINIDADIANS are once again being encouraged to spend their vacations in Tobago rather than choosing a destination overseas. This was the focus of the “Back to…Tobago Time” initiative of the Tobago House of Assembly’s Division of Tourism, Culture and Transportation, held at Cara Suites Hotel in Claxton Bay last Thursday.
Tobago Hotel and Tourism Association president told Business Day, “Now we have the boat working and we have the planes working properly. We want to encourage Trinidadians to come back to Tobago.”
He explained that Trinidadians comprised 60 percent of the island’s tourists year-round. However, James continued, “We were concerned with the problems with the boat over the last 12 months; they may be less confident than they were before.”
James said that with stability restored on the seabridge and the airbridge, “We want to welcome them back and say come to Tobago, we’re ready for them.” Trinidadians choose specific periods to holiday in Tobago. James said these times were mainly long weekends and summer time.
He explained, “The beauty of getting Trinidad tourists for the economy of TT, is that it stops the leakage of foreign exchange.” James continued, “It’s much better for the economy if Trinidadians holidayed in Tobago rather than exacerbate the foreign exchange problem.”
He added, “When people are holidaying in Tobago, we buy the vast majority of our goods from Trinidad.” James explained,” That creates employment from Trinidad and money. It helps the economy.”
Referring to a recent meeting he attended in the Bahamas, James explained other Caribbean countries, “only retain very small amounts of the tourism dollar.” The Bahamas, he said, “only retains 15 cents, we retain over 70 cents.”
Therefore, James said if, “we want to be nationalistic and support TT’s economy… come to holiday in Tobago.” Asked about hotel room stock on the island, James said, “We got some fantastic renovations going on. Mt Irvine, Bacolet Beach, Magdalena, Coco Reef. They all done some work.” Smaller hotels and guest houses have not been left behind. James observed, “A lot of the smaller properties have done some work.”
He said there is ongoing community training in Tobago to improve value and help the island’s tourism sector reach full potential. James stressed that the thrust to encourage more Trinidadians to vacation in Tobago does not mean that efforts to attract international visitors have waned.
“The season for domestic tourism fits the slow season for international,” he explained. The period for slow international traffic is between July and August. “This is why we’re doing this now. We did in the past get a lot of Trinidadians in that July-August period,” James said.
“We want a mix of both. The country needs the foreign exchange. So, we want to do the destination marketing for the international market,” he added.
James was satisfied that Tobago’s airlift capacity was steady and rising. “The air bridge is very dependable now,” he said. Praising Caribbean Airlines (CAL) for the additional flights it put on the airbridge when there were problems with the fast ferry, James said there is a CAL flight from John F Kennedy International Airport once per week.
“We have confirmed flights from British Airways twice a week. Back in the winter, we will have two flights from Virgin from the UK,” he said. There is also a Condor flight from Germany to Tobago. James disclosed there are efforts to include “flights from Canada and Scandinavia” to Tobago.
James welcomed the prospects of Chinese tourists coming to TT. He was also excited about potential Chinese investment in the proposed Tobago Sandals Resort
Last Tuesday, Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley and his delegation met with Chairman of HNA Group Co Ltd, Chen Feng. HNA Group owns 1200 aircraft, is a substantial shareholder in international hotel chains and boasts of being the largest tour operating company in China.
HNA Group has been invited to establish code sharing and interline arrangements with CAL. They have also been invited to submit a competitive bid to partner with the Government on the Tobago Sandals project once the tender process is initiated. A statement issued by the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM) said, “this strategic partnership will allow TT to tap into the tourism market in China.
Minister in the OPM Stuart Young, who has been leading Government’s talks with Sandals, and CAL chairman Ronnie Mohammed are members of Rowley’s delegation. CAL is exploring the possibility of code sharing and interlining opportunities with Air China, China's sole flag carrier and a member of the world’s largest airline alliance, the Star Alliance.
On its own, Air China serves 185 destinations in 40 countries/regions, of which 66 are international destinations. These include Havana, Cuba and John F Kennedy, New York, which are destinations serviced by CAL. Through its partnership with the Star Alliance, Air China’s reach extends to 1,330 destinations in 192 countries.
James said, “When you look at the region. Jamaica has had an increasing number of Chinese people coming in.” Several of them come to the Caribbean to get married and James said this is, “obviously a very good market to go after.”
With Tobago well known in its own right as a wedding destination, James said Tobago has a wedding association. “It’s a market that we want to attract. It’s a good market because people not only get married…they come back for anniversaries and things,” he added.
James said these tourists tend to be “higher spending” and “it’s a market the Caribbean is very successful in.” He said TT and specifically Tobago wants, “to take our fair share of that market.”
The Magdalena Grand Beach and Golf Resort in Lowlands offers several wedding packages ranging from US$1,295,00 to US$1,795,00 per couple. The Palms Villa Resort in Signal Hill also offers wedding packages.
On the impact which Chinese visitors could have on Tobago tourism and the TT economy, James said, “It’s enormous market. All the predictions of the World Tourism Council is that Chinese tourism is going to grow and grow and grow.”
He added, “We need to diversify our originating destinations so that we don’t get dependent on a single one.” In the past, James observed, “We have been very dependent on the UK.”
He said it was important for Tobago to have, “at least five or six originating destinations.” James explained, “So if those countries have problems we can switch our allegiance and our marketing.”
Last Thursday’s event saw representatives of various hotels and other tourism stakeholders offering a sampling of the various services they provide. These included Rovanel’s Resort, Magdalena Grand Beach and Golf Resort, The Palms Villas Resort, Zoe Charter and Undersea Tobago.
Members of the audience were also invited to check out Tobagolime.com to find out hotel rates and other services offered on the island.