THA Secretary of Tourism, Culture, Antiquities and Transportation Tashia Burris has said Tobago is not getting value in return for its marketing of the island. She was speaking on Thursday as she announced a decline in the international arrivals figures for Tobago. She also gave a comparative performance for airlines operating the route for the period January 1 to April 30, 2022, compared to the same period in 2019.
In response to a question from Minority Leader Kelvon Morris at the sixth sitting of the Assembly Legislature in Scarborough on Thursday, Burris said that there are currently two airlines operating as it relates to direct international flight to the ANR Robinson International Airport.
British Airways, she said. resumed operations on January 10, and Virgin Atlantic returned on January 29.
For the period January to April, she said there were a total of 2,392 passenger arrivals to Tobago, which represented an 80.8 per cent decline in international passenger arrivals from the total of 12,445 for the same period in 2019.
“In January 2019 we had 3,129 passengers – in 2022 we had 400.
"February (2019) we had 3,689 passengers – for 2022 we had 832.
"For March (2019) we had 3,215 passengers – for 2022 we had 610.
"In April 2019 we had 2,416 passengers – in 2022 we had 550.”
She said British Airways was responsible for 80.1 per cent of the arrivals from January to April 2022 with 1,916 passengers. She said when compared to the same period in 2019, there was a 44.5 per cent decline in their arrivals from 3,450 in 2019.
Virgin Alantic was responsible for 19.3 per cent of arrivals from January to April 2022 with 462 passengers arriving on the airline. She added that when compared to the same period in 2019, there was a 76.5 per cent decline in their arrivals from a total of 1,968.
She said the covid19 factor and the resulting restrictions, including international border closure, must be considered.
The international border was reopened in mid-2021 after being closed since March 2020.
“During the January to April 2019 period, Tobago was also directly serviced by Condor, Sunwing and Caribbean Airlines, while Thomas Cook operated from January to March 2019. It is also instructive to note that during the period March 2020 to December 2021, when this administration took office marketing spend for the destination continued in spite of the fact that our border was closed and we were unable to receive any international flights or passengers.”
She said the then board of the Tobago Tourism Agency Ltd (TTAL) continued to rubber-stamp payment to international agencies for the entire period of lockdown.
“In the last year alone, the total marketing spend was close to TT$8 million. Numbers do not lie and it's clear to me as secretary that we are not presently seeing returns on investments and these investments were done by the previous administration.”
She added: “It is actually disheartening to know that these flights that are currently operating out of the UK are leaving almost on a weekly basis filled to capacity and the majority of passengers disembarking in Antigua and Barbados.”
She said that the marketing arrangements are currently being reviewed by the new board, led by Alicia Edwards, who she is certain will ensure that Tobago sees an increase in direct airlift from international destinations and increase in international passenger arrivals.
“A review to our current contractual arrangement with these airlines is done to ensure that we are receiving value for money and also that we review and revamp our marketing efforts across all source markets to ensure that brand Tobago receives the attention that it deserves, and we can begin to suddenly reposition ourselves in the minds of travellers as the greatest little island on the planet.”