NOTWITHSTANDING the arrival of giant cruise ships like the Caribbean Princess earlier this week, things are not going well in the tourism sector. The disclosure by chairman of Trinidad Tourism Ltd Janelle Commissiong that visitor arrivals dropped by about 3.6 per cent last year continues a downward trend that has been ongoing for years. A thorough analysis needs to be done to ascertain the reasons for the decline in order to bring about a turnaround. And a turnaround is badly needed.
According to the Ministry of Tourism, the industry supports approximately 24,000 jobs. Some estimates suggest the figure is as high as 60,000, factoring indirect employment. Tourism is also an important source of revenue. Receipts from the hotel room tax alone totalled about $52 million last year. Even more revenue is derived through goods and services purchased by tourists.
That the arrival figures have fallen for the third year in a row is cause for concern. While Commissiong did not give detailed figures, data held by the Trinidad Hotels, Restaurants and Tourism Association suggests international tourist arrivals stood at 394,650 in 2017, a drop from 408,782 in 2016, and 439,749 in 2015.
It is not fruitful, however, to simply compare this country’s performance with that of neighbouring islands such as the Bahamas without a nuanced understanding of the dynamics that lead to cyclical variances. For example, the Bahamas enjoys a close proximity to its main North American market and has a wealth of infrastructure and experience when it comes to the tourism sector. It also offers a different experience from that offered by Trinidad and Tobago.
The challenge, however, is for this country to identify its market and to tailor programmes to suit. Some studies suggest factors such as nationality, gender, and age could affect travel motivation. Are tourists getting younger? Is there a potential market segment that this country could position itself in relation to?
Also, it must be realised that Carnival remains our primary attraction and the clear decline of that festival has implications. Figures held by the Ministry of Tourism suggest that for 2016 Carnival arrivals totalled 82,114, for 2017 it was 78,672, and for 2018 it was 74,191. So that the demise in the quality of Carnival is, perhaps, the single most detrimental factor affecting the industry today.
And with hotel projects like the Sandals development in Tobago yet to get off the ground, tourists seem to have less and less options and will continue to ship out and choose elsewhere.