Asa Wright Nature Centre: Jewel in tourism's crown back in business

Tourism Minister Randall Mitchell and other guests look out to the Arima Valley from the main viewing veranda at the re-opening of the Asa Wright Nature Centre on April 6. - ROGER JACOB
Tourism Minister Randall Mitchell and other guests look out to the Arima Valley from the main viewing veranda at the re-opening of the Asa Wright Nature Centre on April 6. - ROGER JACOB

THE Hadco brand, known for its line of imported food and beverages, is taking on a new role of mixing business with environmental consciousness.

The first step in that direction came a decade ago and on April 6 part of that realisation came though with the re-opening of the Asa Wright Nature Centre Eco-Lodge, north of the Eastern Borough of Arima.

The board of Asa Wright manages the 495 hectares of land as a wildlife sanctuary in the Arima, Aripo and Guanapo valleys. A field research station and a lodge which attracts visitors from all over the world is also managed by the board as a not-for-profit venture.

In October 2020, the centre tried raising US$50,000 to keep the doors opened as well as pay 46 staff members, most of whom were volunteering their time. The travel restrictions imposed during the covid19 pandemic led to the closure of its eco-lodge.

The following year a request for proposal was sent and Hadco Ltd won the bid. The proposal by the board of the Asa Wright Nature Centre wanted a company with a “mission-aligned tourism development” strategy that was able to support the lodging at the facility.

Bird feeders set up near the viewing veranda at the Asa Wright Nature Centre. - ROGER JACOB

The aim of the partnership is to build on a locally loved, internationally recognised brand to create the benchmark for sustainable hotel/tourism in the Caribbean.

After a $14 million investment by Hadco Experiences, the company under the Hadco brand that focuses on its eco-tourism business ventures, the three-year hiatus ended on April 6, with an Argentinian tour company Trogon Tours bringing in 13 birdwatchers. Hadco has a lease to the lands and lodge for 10 years.

The 29-room, fully air-conditioned getaway caters for singles, couples, and families. The hiking trail was refurbished while the rooms were redesigned with all local teak bed posts and nightstands. All overhead utility lines were buried and rooms are accessible with QR codes as part of the digitisation of the lodge which will include free Wi-Fi.

Guests will have the option of totally local meals prepared at the centre's restaurant. Packages start from US$300 per person a night.

The refurbished walkway leading to some of the rustic buildings at the Asa Wright Nature Centre. - ROGER JACOB

At the re-opening, co-founder of Hadco John Hadad said the company is looking to pivot the business to something more sustainable outside of the retail food and beverage business.

“For the last 10 years we've been working on a different model, and a model that has to be relevant in many areas. Number one, there's a whole rising era called ESG, environmental social governance, it speaks to the spirit of the company, and the manner in which you conduct your business and especially on the environmental end. " He said to achieve that he wanted businesses that are relevant in that sector which could also be a foreign exchange earner.

He said although his company’s $14 investment was over budget by $7 million, he hopes that within the next three to four years he will see returns on his investment.

In keeping with the company’s focus, Hadco has also purchased the Mt Plasir Estate Hotel in Grand Riviere.

“We consider our business to be endemically TT, so we want anything that sort of plays in that space. Hence the reason for the investment in pan with the pan factory for which we probably would not get a return on that investment for maybe five years. And now with eco-tourism that we consider as at the heart or the core of what our tourism is in TT.”

“Eco-tourism speaks to low touch, authenticity, being real, selling what we are as Trinbagonians to the rest of the world, including the wonderful flora and fauna that God has blessed us within 2,000 square miles.”

During a tour, Hadad explained that the vantage point for bird lovers got a facelift with an extension of the patio allowing for cameras to be mounted with greater ease. The bird feeders are retractable allowing the birds to get closer to the watchers as they feast.

The redesigned lobby area of the Asa Wright Nature Centre. - ROGER JACOB

Planning and Development Minister Pennelope Beckles, the MP for Arima, said the eco-lodge has great potential for the country.

“This is the first eco-lodge developed for TT and this is a momentous occasion to experience the preservation and transformation of this iconic and rustic building. This will embrace the natural habitat and beautiful species of flora and fauna, while acknowledging the significant economic importance of eco-tourism in TT."

CEO of Tourism Trinidad Limited Carla Cupid said the Hadad’s struck gold with the eco-lodge and was pleased to see the transformation of the lodge.

“This attraction, I consider it to be the jewel in the crown of tourism for many years.”


"Asa Wright Nature Centre: Jewel in tourism’s crown back in business"

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