KIERAN ANDREW KHAN
During the July/August school vacation, the TT Incoming Tour Operators Association (TTITOA) in partnership with Tourism Trinidad, added exciting, new elements to the local tour circuit, expanding on offerings that were first started in 1990.
Hundreds of locals, foreigners and members of the Caribbean diaspora were offered international-grade tour experiences, including the option to kayak the Caroni wetlands, glide through the Chaguaramas Bamboo Cathedral on Segways and visit known attractions such as Fort George, Lopinot, Paramin, the Pitch Lake and more. As one of the first major initiatives conducted through the newly-formed state company, Tourism Trinidad, the exercise allowed the TTITOA to formalise its tour offerings with a view to build on our tourism infrastructure.
"Every year, we bring the tried and tested tours together in an accessible format, with world-class service," Lorraine Pouchet, president of TTITOA, noted. "We've done this for several school vacation periods for the past few years in partnership with the tourism board or authority at the time.
"We started with just two tours in 1990, but today have a wide array of tours which vary from rappelling Avocat Falls to gliding through the Bamboo Cathedral in Chaguaramas. Our goal is the same – we want nationals to become ambassadors for what we have to offer here – and we have a lot to offer."
With 15 tour operators under the umbrella of TTITOA, the organisation was the central booking point for the tours, which were advertised on traditional and digital media channels. Interested people were able to call to book the tour of their choice or do so via Whatsapp, receive a unique booking code and pay at any First Citizens bank. They would then simply show up on the day of the tour with their booking code and receipt in hand.
The 2019 roster of sites and attractions for this campaign included an impressive cross-section of educational, family-friendly activities mixed with more adventurous elements too. Participants enjoyed a cruise to Chacachacare Island, learning about TT heritage in Paramin or the cocoa history at Lopinot – to name a few. Las Cuevas and Maracas beaches were also listed as parts of tours that took into account, waterfalls and hikes in those areas.
"At all points, we aimed to educate people during our journey so that it isn't just about the destination," Pouchet explained.
"We pride ourselves on ensuring that we only work with certified tour guides and certified tourism transport associations who are trained in defensive driving.
"The tourism product that we are offering is of an international grade, and this is being delivered with the assistance of Tourism Trinidad and to a smaller extent, other sponsors. These partnerships help to offset operating costs and incentivise our tours, making them more affordable for families."
Despite the national focus on other non-renewable resources for the past 50 years, she said TT has a tremendous capacity to look towards tourism as a real revenue-earner, provided it can bring the right elements together on the governance and civic levels.
"Some of the most beautiful spaces and the densest populations of unique birds and animals can be found right here in Trinidad, but there is much to be done towards maintenance and upgrades of our sites and attractions, and this requires the collaborative effort of all stakeholders. Costa Rica is marketed and touted as the best eco-tourism destination in the western hemisphere, but we have so much more to offer here," Pouchet pointed out.
"We must move to create and implement best-in-class standards for tourism. This must then be supported by the right level of international marketing and branding, to ensure that everyone, everywhere, knows who we are and what we have to offer."