Tobago hotels plead with CAL: 'Get it right'

The Shah family from Toronto enjoys the sea and sun at Store Bay on June 29. File photo/David Reid
The Shah family from Toronto enjoys the sea and sun at Store Bay on June 29. File photo/David Reid

Tobago hotels are trying to take advantage of the high returns coming out of major events on the island in July, August and October after the lifting of most of the covid19 pandemic restrictions.

In those three months, thousands of people are expected to attend the Tobago Heritage Festival, Great Fete Weekend –which headlines top regional and international performers – and Tobago’s Carnival in October.

Occupation rates are between 75 and 100 per cent, but hoteliers are already experiencing cancellations during what some have described as the first and biggest economic peaks in over two years.

They are concerned that the unavailability of space on Caribbean Airlines Ltd (CAL) flights to the island will rob them of the chance to break even.

Tobago Hotel and Tourism Association vice president Carol Ann Birchwood-James told Newsday in an interview on Tuesday that after two years of downtime, hoteliers are disappointed that CAL still has not got it right.

She suggests CAL should lease a plane to cater to peak season demand.

“We used to do that before, so we need to look at that suggestion and work out the figures and look serious about it. July-August peak season is almost gone, but in October we need to get this right.

“It’s disappointing we still have this issue ongoing."

She suggested the solution was leasing an additional aircraft airlift for peak times such as Easter, July/August vacation, Christmas and other major events on the island.

“We have to do something, We can’t wait our hotels to get filled, people employed, businesses operating when we can’t get people to the island because we don’t have an efficient transportation service.”

Birchwood-James said most of the hotels spent the last two years closed.

"Everybody is in difficulties; the pandemic left us in shambles.”

Despite the challenges of the pandemic restrictions, hoteliers accessed grants from the Tobago House of Assembly to improve their product and service delivery.

Mas character Geronimo Warrior during the Plymouth, Tobago street parade on July 23. Tobago Carnival is scheduled for October 28-30. File photo/David Reid,

“Still, some people need money for operations, to pay mortgages and other bills to get on their feet. Most of them are on their feet, but quite a number of them are still struggling."

She acknowledged, however: "All is not lost. We are trying to keep the industry alive.”

Birchwood-James lamented that covid19 almost cost Tobago its lifeline of the entire tourism sector, but believes the response to the upcoming events is what the sector needs.

“Whatever money we have had, it’s now gone in the last two years. So if we are hit with something else again, we will need help from the state, because all the reserves are done, and what is generated over this economic boom will not be sufficient.”

Kaye Trotman, president of the Tobago Unique Bed and Breakfast & Self Catering Association, shared these sentiments, saying almost half her association's members have remained closed.

She said CAL’s inefficiencies will cause travellers once again to lose confidence in coming to Tobago.

“Our local and international market is ready to come back. This is the first time since 2016 that many of our members are experiencing occupancy levels so high.”

Asked if the association has discussed how it will deal with any impacts of growing threats of a new covid19 variant and monkeypox, she warned, “Another blow as deep as covid19 will carry some of us away, no matter how prepared we may be. It’s not just preparation or protocols, No matter how ready, most of us cannot stand it. That’s why we are happy some funds are coming in. "If we are to take a serious hit of anything now, it will take it back and out.

Magdalena Grand Beach & Golf Resort managing director Vinod Bajaj said operations at the hotel are at their best in two years.

“July was very good, and August is looking like it will also be a decent month for us. We are getting closer to the pre-pandemic way – not quite, but we are getting there. All the activities happening on the island are helping us come back. Our guests and loyal customers are coming back.

Bajaj told Business Day while the issue of the monkeypox threat is not imminent, it is being monitored. He said the hotel will continue to follow and wait on advice from local experts.

Great Fete Weekend will be hosted from July 29-31. Its Carnival is scheduled for October 28- 30.

On Thursday, the CAL website showed no available flights from August 4-11.

THA Secretary for Tourism, Culture, Antiquities and Transportation Tashia Burris said on July 16 at a post-Executive Council media briefing that people are already having trouble booking flights for that period, but CAL's website is showing availability on October 27, 29 and 30 to Tobago.

Dionne Ligoure, CAL’s head of corporate communications, told Business Day, “CAL is constantly looking at capacity and our resources to adjust airlift as needed.

“Looking at our resources and other factors, we do the best we can to operate a viable schedule. And the airline is in regular contact with the THA.”


"Tobago hotels plead with CAL: ‘Get it right’"

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