President of the Tobago Hotel and Tourism Association (THTA) Chris James is hoping for a turnaround in tourist arrivals for the island in 2018 after the challenges of 2017 which saw occupancy at a dismal 26.7 percent.
In a telephone interview on Monday, James said “problems on the sea-bridge and the knock-on effect on the air-bridge contributed to the worst year that anyone can remember.”
“Our destination marketing decreased even further as was indicated to us at the World Travel Market, and although the industry in Tobago did what it could in terms of marketing, the lack of destination marketing reduces any real impact the private sector can make on a very competitive world market,” he said.
In terms of the date, James noted that occupancy for 2017 stood at 26.7 percent compared to a regional average of 68.3 percent.
“The average occupancy recorded by the Tobago Hotel and Tourism Association for 2017 was 26.7 percent. This must be put this into context; the regional average was 68.3 percent, and with many destinations close to Tobago getting over 70 percent.
“The Tobago Hotel and Tourism Association have only received figures up to September 2017 from the Tobago House of Assembly (THA) and they present their figures in two distinct categories: hotels, which up to September 2017 reached 33.4 percent occupancy, and guesthouses, which up to September 2017 reached 24 percent occupancy,” he said.
James said low occupancy represent only part of the story, as restaurants, taxis, tours, retailers - all economic activity on the island - would be impacted by this historic drop in arrivals.
He identified positives in industry in 2017 - a pull-out section in the UK newspaper, the Telegraph, from a familiarisation trip on Tobago, while individual hotels had visits by two other newspapers.
James also said the announcement of improved incentives in both the rebate programme and the loan guarantee programme were welcomed but that further discussion was needed because “without a plan to increase arrivals, it is difficult to encourage any business to increase debt.”
Despite all the challenges and setbacks, however, James remains adamant that Tobago has enormous potential as a tourism destination, and that this potential would be explored this year.
“I hope in 2018, the Tobago Hotel and Tourism Association can convince more of those in power of that potential, in terms of jobs, foreign exchange earnings, investment, business opportunities,” he said.