THE EDITOR: Many people in TT continue to be obstinate when it comes to the travel and tourism industry. Recently several of these “experts” have chosen to knock the attempts to have Sandals establish a resort in Tobago, offering only that “we can do it ourselves.”
Well the easy answer to that is we cannot, and the truth is if we could have, we would have. The same way we might lend advice to a neighbour regarding oil exploration and production, we ourselves have to appreciate that we need assistance when it comes to developing a robust tourism industry.
Why tourism? Let’s look at some facts from the World Tourism Council. Travel and tourism generated US$7.6 trillion (ten per cent of global GDP) and 277 million jobs (one in 11 jobs) for the global economy in 2014. Recent years have seen travel and tourism growing at a faster rate than both the wider economy and other significant sectors such as automotive, financial services and healthcare.
In the Caribbean the sector’s direct contribution to GDP in 2015 was US$16.6 billion. This is forecast to go up to US$22.5 billion in 2025.
In terms of its total contribution to GDP, including the business generated by the linkages created, travel and tourism’s total contribution to GDP in the Caribbean alone was nearly US$53 billion in 2015, projected to rise to US$73.6 billion in 2025.
The sector also creates employment for over 2.2 million people.
These are impressive numbers and we need to move past a mentality nurtured in dwindling oil and gas reserves, and tap into a market where the dollars continue to flow.
The biggest advantage we have is simply our geographic location. Look at how the hurricanes have ravaged the islands further north. And that’s where I come to Sandals.
People seem to confuse a “brand” and a “name.” Many argue that it is sufficient to push “Tobago.” Well it is not, not if we are to attract the visitors and the airlift that is required. A recent story spoke of Tobago hoteliers struggling to make ends meet, and one of the big problems is that the airlines just don’t go there any more, so the visitors don’t come.
If the brand Tobago could have increased airlift, it would have. On the other hand, the legacy airlines such as American, Delta, JetBlue, Virgin and British Airways always fly wherever Sandals has a hotel. If we do our research we would see that it has happened in St Lucia, it has happened in Antigua, and it has happened most recently just a few miles away in Grenada. In fact JetBlue has stated on record that the only reason it flies to St Lucia is because there are three Sandals Resorts there.
That is what a brand does. Tobago is beautiful and we love it, but it does not have the brand efficacy of a Sandals. And we must remember that it may only be 20 or 30 per cent of the customers flying on the airlines who actually go to Sandals. The small hotels will benefit too. That’s because once the flights are there, many people will look for the more affordable places to stay, which is why indirectly Sandals will benefit all.
More flights means more business, more taxi drivers, more local purchases, more tour operators getting work and I can go on.
Anyone who takes a little effort to research all of this will find out what I have just tried to explain, and it pains me to see people playing politics with this issue out of just seeking political mileage, self-gain or out of sheer ignorance.
If we don’t tap into this market now and Cuba comes in, and Cuba decides that it wants Sandals to come back there, then, as the old people say, “crapaud smoke we pipe.”
MIKEY JOSEPH via e-mail