THE hospitality business in Tobago is becoming very difficult, as hoteliers are reporting zero per cent occupancy rates, according to some guest house and hotel owners during a stakeholders’ meeting at Rovanel’s Resort last Sunday evening. The meeting was hosted by the Tobago chapter of the Chamber of Industry and Commerce.
The businessmen blamed the inefficiency of the air and sea bridge and are already predicting a dull Easter and Jazz Festival season. President of the Tobago Hotel and Tourism Association Chris James said Tobago’s hotel industry must brace for a further devastation, as the return of the T&T Spirit to sea is uncertain.
James said the occupancy rate is under 30 per cent, whereas the region’s is at 72 to 74 per cent. “What’s worse is that we are 40 per cent down on the region, so we are not only doing badly in occupancy, our rate is 40 per cent less – that’s for the hotels. For the guest houses it’s worse, where the small guest houses’ occupancy is 24 per cent and their rate is 60 per cent lower than the region.”
He said this decline began back in 2007 and had continued for ten years. “St Lucia grew by 11 per cent last year, so now their occupancy rate is 72 per cent, and their average rate is $408. So we are way below occupancy of destination marketing of Tobago for a number of years, especially in the last 12 to 18 months.
“We have lost overseas representatives in Germany and the US. “Now it’s our direct flights at a disadvantage; we are at risk of losing those also.”
James dismissed comments by the government about Tobago’s tourism product needing improvement, saying Tobago‘s product standard and quality is above the regional average in all areas, including customer service, as stated on Trip Advisor.
“The air and sea bridge has become important for our market, since we are already doing so badly in the international market that the domestic market is what we now rely on. Last year in April-May we have lost that market by at least 50 per cent...we seem to be doing everything we can to kill it even more: they are now closing the airport from March 6 to May 5 from 10 at night to 6 am.” Guests arriving on both domestic and international flights will be affected by this schedule change.
James said the association has not done any marketing in Trinidad for over a year because the air and sea bridge issues continue to leave domestic visitors disgruntled.