Last week, 5,000 passengers and crew docked in Port of Spain on the Caribbean Princess and were greeted by a live parang band. Minister of Tourism Randall Mitchell announced that he expects 69,000 visitors for the 2019-2020 cruise ship season, which runs from November to April. That’s a drop from peak figures of 91,889 announced in 2017-2018 but an increase on this year, which dropped to just over 58,000. To put those numbers in perspective, there are less than 80,000 visitors to this country’s annual Carnival.
But all tourists are not equal. Carnival visitors are a completely different type of tourist from cruise ship arrivals: each should benefit from specific strategy. There is no evidence that we are investing that kind of effort or preparation into cruise-ship tourism beyond offering knick knacks in a shed at dockside and sketchy tours to ill-prepared sites.
Getting tourists here is only half of the equation. Having a strategy to joyfully liberate them from their money is the other and that requires investment in infrastructure that we haven’t made. It’s useless talking about the Caroni Bird Sanctuary as a wonderful tourism offering when the boarding site is in a disastrous state. And it’s not the only one.
Many of the tourism attractions that the managers of our destination thrust tout so cheerfully are in a deplorable state with no plan to improve them, while other, less obvious possibilities aren’t properly mapped for a visitor landing here for just a few days. For a country so rich in culture and character, our tourism leadership seems far too keen to dilute its most interesting aspects into a blur of hasty tours and situational highlights without any effort invested in presenting the diverse reality of our country.
TT is a country rich in character, history, geography and nuance, and it’s an unforgiveable mistake to trim its spiky uniqueness to fit our limited profile of a first-time visitor. From a tourism perspective, our two islands offer quite different experiences, and one sensible approach would have been to build out and promote our unique points of divergence while emphasising our proximity.
It won’t be possible to rebuild our tourism infrastructure in time for the current cruise ship season, nor will it be possible to complete such an exercise, even with the greatest of commitment and will, in less than five years. The Ministry of Tourism should collaborate with local tour operators to tidy and urgently refurbish our most viable sites, and emphasise those destinations to this season’s cruise ship visitors. There’s a lot of work to be done and we remain far behind our competition in this space.
Newsday wishes to apologise most sincerely to readers for the repeat of last Saturday’s editorial in yesterday’s edition of the newspaper. Steps have been taken to avoid any recurrence.