THE APPOINTMENT of a new chairman at the agency charged with overseeing the advancement of tourism in Trinidad, Tourism Trinidad Ltd, comes at a pivotal moment for the local tourism sector.
In announcing the appointment of Cliff Hamilton last Friday, Minister of Tourism Randall Mitchell alluded to the changed global context.
“Mr Hamilton’s appointment comes at a particularly trying time for the tourism industry,” the minister said. “We are in uncharted territory, but we believe his steady and experienced hands can help the industry rebuild stronger and safer.”
Though the borders have reopened, the revitalisation of the sector is not limited to things like entry requirements and airport protocols.
The global economic downturn had affected the potential size of the market. What tourism activity is going on is now subject to the additional requirements necessitated by covid19, and those requirements have additional costs.
In a situation in which tourists are also likely to be far more conservative in their tastes – going for longstanding destinations they are familiar with – the playing field is also uneven, with older, more experienced markets having the edge.
Tourism Trinidad has the distinction of being geared towards focusing on Trinidad’s distinct appeal. Whether such a specialist approach is viable in light of all these shifts remains to be seen.
What is clear, however, is that while there are many challenges at present, there are also a lot of opportunities for the enhancement of the local tourism industry, whether in Trinidad or Tobago.
Though many locals have resumed their habit of flying abroad for vacations or shopping trips, it is equally the case that economic realities have meant many others have opted to seek leisure at less expense locally.
That there is a boom in “staycationing” is borne out by the most casual examination of social media feeds which feature a steady stream of posts showing gadabouts enjoying Trinidad’s beautiful terrain, rustic country retreats and generally eating up the many hiking spots and hidden marvels that can be found here. Dreevaying is the new trend in leisure.
The traditional approach to tourism has always been outward-looking: trying to attract visitors from larger, metropolitan zones to the north; reeling in huge cruise ships; even going so far as to try to attract international hotel chains to set up shop here.
But perhaps this is a moment for the authorities to focus on attending to smaller, local attractions by assisting with infrastructure and various forms of grant support.
The current vogue for staycationing could be a useful way to enhance our local tourism offering.
In context of the need to improve service standards, it can also act as a kind of rehearsal for when visitors return in larger numbers some time down the road, no doubt lured by the same scenic spots being so readily enjoyed by locals today.