In 2017 the government dissolved the Tourism Development Company and formed two new organisations in its place: the Tobago Tourism Agency (TTA) and the Tourism Trinidad Destination Management Company Limited (TTL). The bodies were established to promote each island as its own independent tourist destination, with Trinidad focusing on meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions (MICE) visitors, and Tobago targeting the leisure market. However, the two agencies have been somewhat slow to establish their own brand and campaigns following the reorganisation, impeding progress towards the government’s vision of diversifying the economy through sustainable tourism.
The Vision 2030 strategic development plan outlines the objective of broadening sustainable tourism to ease the country’s dependence on hydrocarbons revenue, a goal that is reiterated in the FY 2019/20 budget statement. The government is developing the National Tourism Policy and Tourism Master Plan, which will establish clear objectives for the sector in line with Vision 2030, and better define the roles of TTA and TTL as the implementers of legislation to support tourism on their respective islands.
To be successful, the TTA and TTL must balance the goals of sustainability and rapid growth. This entails crafting a new image for Trinidad and Tobago that brings to mind ecological vacation offerings and moves away from the country’s reputation as an energy producer that depends heavily on non-renewable resources. Vision 2030 aims to achieve the UN’s Millennium Development Goal 7, which is to ensure environmental sustainability, by placing the environment at the centre of social and economic planning. This involves positioning the country – specifically Tobago – as an ecotourism destination. T&T is home to around 2500 species of plants, 430 species of birds and 100 mammals, as well as marine systems that include coral reefs and algae beds, providing it a natural base for ecotourism.
Promoting the country as an ecological holiday destination is only one part of sector strategy, however, and is paired with supporting Trinidad as a business hub by capitalising on its existing hotel and MICE infrastructure, and attracting new investment to help it stand out from regional competitors. TTL will play the lead promotional role in this regard in the years to 2030, partially determining whether T&T will succeed in its objective to establish tourism as a top driver of economic growth.
Shaping and executing tourism policy on the country’s smaller island is the TTA, established in July 2017 with the mandate to “lead the (re)development of the island’s tourism product and marketing, and (re)position Tobago as a premier island destination founded on the principles of sustainable development”. Randall Mitchell, the minister of tourism, told OBG, “Since its creation, the TTA has taken the lead in promoting Tobago as a leisure, eco-adventure and heritage destination.”
The TTA’s Visit Tobago website provides tourists with information about the island including activities, experiences, hotels and restaurants. It also gives information about trade opportunities to potential investors; unlike Trinidad, tourism is a key driver of Tobago’s economy. The TTA has significant competition from other Caribbean destinations, however, as places like Barbados and the Dominican Republic also have attractive beaches and nature, but offer more developed resort experiences. Therefore, the TTA is aiming its marketing campaigns at travellers searching for a holiday at a less-explored destination, people over 50 years of age and dual-income couples with no children to widen the tourist profile of those visiting the island. The TTA has already begun to promote Tobago as an ecotourism destination, presenting its strategy at a press conference during the World Travel Market in London in November 2019. There, Louis Lewis, CEO of the TTA, highlighted the main initiatives for 2020, which include implementing the Green Key Global programme for environmental conscientiousness in the accommodation segment, Blue Flag certification for the sustainable development of two of the island’s beaches, and nominating north-east Tobago as a candidate for UNESCO’s Man and the Biosphere programme that seeks to provide benefits to local communities and their environment.
While positioning Tobago as an ecotourism destination is a move in the right direction, there is a clear need for greater investment in the island’s resort and excursion infrastructure to support an influx of tourists. The Ministry of Tourism (MoT) has long been criticised for under-investment in the tourism sector, which is particularly evident in Tobago, as the island has all the attractions of a typical Caribbean destination but lacks the infrastructure to attract more visitors.
Chris James, president of the Tobago Hotel and Tourism Association, told OBG that the potential for foreign investment is there, but changes need to be made to land licensing policies, which have created a serious obstacle to investment. James also expressed the need for more four- and five-star resorts to attract tourists at the higher end of the market. “Currently 82% of the 4000 rooms in Tobago are properties of seven rooms or less,” which are too small for most tour operators to service, James told OBG. Olivier Maumaire, general manager at Hilton Worldwide, echoed this sentiment. “Everyone is in a wait-and-see mode as the government has talked about development in Tobago before,” he told OBG.
James also highlighted Tobago’s overdependence on domestic tourism, highlighting the need to increase international arrivals to achieve an annual occupancy rate above its present level of 34%. However, when the government recently tried to welcome a large operator to the island the development did not go as planned. In January 2020 the anticipated 750-room Sandals resort project was cancelled by Sandals after more than two years of negotiations. The resort developer cited the large amount of negative local publicity surrounding the project and low support among residents, despite the promise of up to 2000 local job opportunities.
TTL, created in October 2018, has seen little development until recently. The company hired a CEO and management team in January 2019, and established its first team of staff in August 2019, some two years after the TTA. The body drew up a one-year Strategic Action Plan around this time.
Tourism in Trinidad largely revolves around MICE. A strong energy sector has brought funds and businesspeople to the country, which hosts events such as the Trinidad & Tobago Energy Conference & Tradeshow. TTL will, therefore, continue to focus on events and business conferences, while also developing its sport offerings. The organisation will collaborate with SportTT and the Ministry of Community Development, Culture and the Arts to manage these three areas successfully. According to the MoT, TTL’s main objectives for 2020 include boosting international arrivals by 7% to 380,000 visitors, maintaining hotel occupancy at 64% and growing tourist expenditure. Supplementary aims are to target the Trinbagonian diaspora and attract visitors more evenly throughout the year. Opinion in the sector remains divided on the decision to close the Tourism Development Company in 2017 and create separate tourism bodies for Trinidad and Tobago, especially given the slow launch of TTL. Brian Frontin, CEO at Trinidad Hotels, Restaurants & Tourism Association, told OBG that there were significant operationalisation delays until the second half of 2019, but since then TTL has begun to fulfil its critical function. The body has indicated to tourism stakeholders that it would launch a new brand, logo and website in early 2020 to promote the Trinidad destination. When it comes to investment, TTL will look for public-private partnership (PPP) opportunities, according to the MoT. While no PPPs had been structured as of January 2020, this is likely to change once a clearly established brand is formed and a holistic strategy is presented to investors.
Tourism is one of the principal economic growth drivers of CARICOM as a whole, thus the sector formed part of the community’s Strategic Plan that spanned from 2015 to 2019. The region’s tourism development agency, the Caribbean Tourism Organisation (CTO), works closely with CARICOM to push the tourism agenda for all 24 member countries, focusing on sustainability. Its two subsidiaries – CTO USA, and CTO UK and Europe – aim to promote offerings in the Caribbean’s two largest tourism source markets. The CTO’s work centres on activities ranging from advocacy, human capital development, and finance and resource management, to research and IT, disaster management and sharing events that promote the entire region.
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