Hoteliers are looking forward to an upswing in occupancy levels this Christmas season with the Galleons Passage now sailing the sea bridge along with the T&T Spirit.
Kaye Trotman, President of the Tobago Unique Bed and Breakfast & Self-Catering Association, said on Tuesday, one day after the Galleons Passage made its first official sailing from Port of Spain to Scarborough, that having a second ferry on the sea bridge was “a step in the right direction” for tourism.
The Galleons Passage brought 85 passengers and 20 vehicles, on the trip to Tobago. It is not known how many passengers, nor vehicles, were on the return passage. Works Minister Rohan Sinanan, who travelled on the ferry to Tobago, returned to Trinidad by air.
In an interview with Newsday Tobago on Tuesday, Trotman said:
“We are glad the ferries are actually working now, we want to see the public return. We want the public to respond to the fact that there are two functional vessels (on the sea bridge) so we can see some positive impact on the tourism industry.
“Apart from the numbers of visitors increasing, it has more to do with the reliability and consistency in terms of yes, we have solutions, but will we be getting regular scheduled sailings and not that the day before the sailing, there is a cancellation.”
She stressed that reliability of the sea bridge was crucial to restoring public confidence in the service.
“Two working vessels…two reliable vessels will be the combination to restoring the confidence and supplement the marketing we will be doing in Trinidad,” she said, adding that in the next two months, she was hoping to see a positive response from the domestic market.
“We need to remember there are still some horror stories of using the sea bridge that will be there for some time even though there are two vessels sailing now. I am hoping to see some positive impact during this coming quarter going into the high season of Christmas.”
Trotman said occupancy rates for members of the Association were between 20 to 30 percent, even with the return of the T&T Spirit five months ago on the sea bridge.
“It is still pretty low. Some people have not seen the impact of the sailing as yet. What we have been getting are enquires because I have been doing individual marketing through sponsorship of different events and programmes. What we have been able to get with that is awareness that Tobago is still open for business.”
She noted that of the 24 members of the Association, two have closed their business while 20 percent have switched from short term tourist rentals rental to long-term residential rental because of the drastic decrease in visitor to Tobago over the last two years.
Now with two functioning fast ferries, Trotman said Tobago hotels, guesthouses and inns could now confidently market their services to the domestic market and be able to promise their guests reliable, efficient transportation to and from the island. “We have been working along with the hotel association where through their Facebook marketing campaign, Tobago Deals, we have been advertising on the local market. This is only what our budget can afford, and it also seems to be the main medium the public is using. We will still look at other avenues like TripAdvisor and sponsorships to market but in terms of hard currency, that is still difficult for us…” she said.
President of the Tobago Hotel and Tourism Association (THTA), Chris James also welcomed the Galleons Passage on the sea bridge and now looks towards rebuilding the confidence of the Trinidadians to vacation in Tobago.
“The industry’s business model had to adapt, and we relied more on the domestic market for survival. Some members may not recover but those that have are hoping that the Tobago Tourism Agency Ltd’s plan is rolled out in its entirety so that Tobago can once again return to both the domestic and international markets.”
James described the past two years as extremely difficult for the tourism industry in Tobago with the fall in international arrivals from 80,000 in 2005 to the 20,000 in recent years, due to what he said was a lack of destination marketing.