Reef tour operators grateful, but boats in bad condition

Trinidadian visitors enjoy a trip to Buccoo Reef and Nylon Pool on the Ocean One boat. FILE PHOTO -
Trinidadian visitors enjoy a trip to Buccoo Reef and Nylon Pool on the Ocean One boat. FILE PHOTO -

Buccoo reef tour operators are pleased with the amendment of the public health regulations allowing them to resume business for the first time since April 2021. However, the considerable downtime has left many of the boats needing repairs to be seaworthy again.

On Saturday the Prime Minister promised to hold discussions with Chief Secretary Farley Augustine, on the resumption of reef tour operators in Tobago, in line with covid19 protocols.

Tour operators were surprised on Monday as the new regulations released showed that those tours will now be allowed to operate at 50 per cent capacity, during the hours of 5 am to 2 pm, and visitors to Buccoo Reef will be allowed to enter the water.

Operators were reminded that while visitors are on board their vessels, they are required to adhere to the usual health protocols by wearing their masks. No alcohol or loud music is permitted.

Commenting on Monday, PRO of the Store Bay Reef Tours Association, Michael Frank said the mood among reef tour boat owners is one of joy and relief.

Frank said, “We have been down for so long, so we are just happy to resume our work. The announcement however, was shocking to us because we heard that the Chief Secretary and Prime Minister was going to meet this week.

“So, it was like a premeditated decision by the minister to reopen boat trips with immediate effect.”

Frank is still hopeful that the meeting between Dr Rowley and Augustine takes place. He feels more needs to be done to bolster tourism.

“I think the Chief Secretary will make more demands, if the meeting is held. I think one of the main demands he will ask for, is for boats to operate from 6 am to 6 pm.

"Because when tourists come here, they want to experience the sunset and things that are natural to Tobago, but we are thankful for what we have right now.”

He believes the return of international flights was a major influence in the green light for reef tours.

"The tour market is a very important niche for the country, and it is hard for a tourist to fly so much miles to Tobago, only to find out they cannot experience the natural resources of the country.

“Nylon Pool is like the most important thing to do in Tobago.”

Although grateful to resume, Frank said the return to operations will not be smooth.

"Most of the tour operators are in so much debt that it will take a while for things to get back to normal. Most of us have so much equipment to fix and a lot of things to be done on boats, like electrical and mechanical stuff – most of the boats are in bad condition.

"So, this will take a while and most of us may have to borrow money to restart our business.”

Frank recently told Newsday that boats owners will also have to pay for insurance again.

He said a meeting was held over the weekend and a proposal was expected to be sent to the THA for assistance in getting the boats back in operation.

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"Reef tour operators grateful, but boats in bad condition"

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