After almost two years, British Airways (BA) made its first flight on Monday to Tobago since Trinidad and Tobago's borders were shut owing to covid19.
“I exhaled,” said Tobago House of Assembly (THA) Secretary of Tourism and Transportation Tashia Burris. “For BA to retain confidence in Tobago as a destination, it made me feel heartened that this is a signal of things to come.”
Ms Burris aims to welcome 100,000 visitors to the island annually at some stage in the future, but that target will hardly be met unless steps are taken to facilitate Tobago’s tourism needs within the current pandemic context.
The island is already behind several other Caribbean islands which by this stage already have a lot more experience in this regard. Our Caribbean neighbours are in a better position to compete, given clearer plans and strategies. They also have a clearer understanding of what they have to offer visitors, as well as more sophisticated ways of marketing themselves.
Still, Monday’s flight, which carried just under 100 passengers, was an indication that there is still a pulse and that tourism is not completely dead. THA Chief Secretary Farley Augustine saw the event as a sign of Tobago retaining global partnerships. British High Commissioner Harriet Cross, speaking ahead of Monday’s flight, noted the UK remains Tobago’s biggest market.
“The love for Tobago from British travellers has not been lost despite the pandemic,” Ms Cross said.
Monday’s event saw dancers from the Tobago Performing Arts Company – complete with health-regulation masks – greet those disembarking from the flight with a taste of Tobago’s culture.
But it will take more than token gestures to give visitors real insight into what Tobago has to offer.
Regular visitors may by now be accustomed to the island. But if numbers are to increase, a real push has to be made to make services and attractions as accessible and appealing as possible in the circumstances. A plan has to be put in place to allow visits to attractions to make the experience less confining while also keeping public health and safety paramount.
Tobago’s overburdened healthcare infrastructure must also be bolstered before the island can hope to attract visitors who might conceivably have to rely on it. It is already clear that the system is under considerable pressure in servicing the needs of the local population alone.
It is also worth considering how the safe-zone policy can be tailored to meet Tobago’s specific tourism profile.
For example, over in Jamaica, authorities have introduced a “Resilient Corridor” system involving the coastline to the north of the island from Negril to Port Antonio. Only businesses within the corridor that have been trained, assessed and cleared for opening may do so, following detailed health protocols drawn up by authorities, in addition to entry protocols.
The THA and the Tobago Tourism Agency must also engage in a marketing strategy to define the island’s brand beyond the usual expectations that regular visitors may have. Covid19 has made travel less straightforward. Tobago has to give its visitors a good reason to come.