President of the Tobago Hotel and Tourism Association (THTA) Chris James says hoteliers cannot focus on improving their businesses because they are too busy “paying off loans and catching up on overdrafts.”
Speaking at the Tobago Environmental Partnership Conference, Mt Irvine Bay Resort, Tobago, on Tuesday, James painted a grim picture of the problems confronting the island’s hotel industry which, he said, is one of the heaviest taxed in the country.
He said last year Tobago had a 29.5 per cent hotel occupancy rate.
“The region had 68 per cent. We had roughly half of what the region achieves. So, this is where we are.”
James, who spoke on the topic, Fostering Partnership Among Government, Civil Society and Private Sector, said there has been a consistent decline in occupancy since 2005.
“In 2005, we had 88,000 (international arrivals). In 2018, we had 19,000 international visitors. So, we had a 75 per cent decline in our international visitors.”
To compound matters, James claimed there has been a 50 per cent decline in domestic visitors because of the problems on the seabridge within the past three years.
“The seabridge collapse, for numerous reasons, whereas we used to have 1.1 million (domestic visitors), half a million each way, we now only have 420,000. So, that sea bridge has affected our domestic market.”
He added: “I state this because the situation is that, and as much as we want to do things to improve our hotels, to standardise our hotel service, most of us are spending time trying to pay off loans or catching up with overdrafts. So, there isn’t very much money available from within the private sector – within the hotel industry – at the moment. That is the negative part of it.”
James, who has been involved in the tourism industry for more than two decades, lamented that many of the initiatives conceptualised over the years to boost the sector have fallen flat.
He said if some of the findings of the initiatives were implemented, years ago, “most of which cost a lot of money, we would not be in the situation we are in now.”
James said a master plan, drafted by the Canadian government in 1995, was the best plan for tourism on the island. He said the plan covered eco-tourism, sustainable tourism and niche markets in Tobago.