In an effort to lay the foundations for sustainable long-term growth, the Ministry of Tourism (MoT), along with its implementation agency, the Tourism Development Company (TDC), are working to enhance the appeal of key tourist sites across Trinidad and Tobago as well as implement measures to improve service delivery. Beach infrastructure improvement in particular remains central to efforts to ensure facilities meet international standards.
According to the country’s Public Sector Investment Programme (PSIP) 2016, in fiscal year (FY) 2015 the TDC spent TT$4.4m ($678,000) on the development, improvement and maintenance of beach infrastructure. Among the projects under way is the development of facilities at Maracas Beach. Located on the northern coast of Trinidad, less than an hour’s drive from Port of Spain, Maracas Beach accounts for the largest influx of local and international tourists, according to the TDC.
The construction phase of the project, which seeks to redevelop the facility to international standards, began in July 2015, with new facilities set to include a 400-vehicle car park, a new boardwalk, outdoor shower poles and foot-wash stations, changing rooms and bathroom facilities, vending booths, a police post, facilities for the MoT and TDC, a multi-purpose sports area and camping grounds. In mid-2015 local media reported that construction company Kall Co had been awarded a TT$120m ($18.5m) contract for the upgrades included in the master plan.
The TDC’s vision for the project includes the transformation of the Maracas community into a sustainable fishing village. To this end, the bridge connecting Maracas Beach to the Maracas Fishing Village as well as other upgrades have already been completed.
Located some 8.5 km north-east of Maracas Bay, the Las Cuevas Beach is especially popular among tourists looking for water sports, in particular surfing. Relatively quieter but as accessible as Maracas Beach, the site has grown in popularity in recent years and received its blue-flag certification in 2014, a rating it maintained in 2015.
To meet increased demand, the TDC is working on developing the facilities. In FY 2015 a TT$800,000 ($123,000) contract was awarded for the improvement of public restrooms at the site, and work on additional car parking facilities reached completion. The site is set for expansion in 2016, with new infrastructure and implementation of paid-parking facilities scheduled to begin before the end of the year.
Just north of Mayaro, Manzanilla Beach is another site undergoing works. Known for its peaceful beaches, Manzanilla is also a nesting ground for leatherback sea turtles and is thus an important ecotourism asset. The site is facing erosion, following a flood in November 2014, which resulted in considerable damage. In FY 2015 the site saw increased security, lighting and other repairs, and in 2016 authorities are set to build on this, with major structural and rehabilitation works including the installation of fixtures for the eastern boardwalk.
La Brea Pitch Lake
Located in south-west Trinidad, the La Brea Pitch Lake is the largest of only three natural asphalt lakes in the world. The lake has a significant economic and social value, in particular since 1978, when state-owned enterprise Lake Asphalt of T&T was established to extract and process asphalt from the lake. Now authorities are also recognising the site’s notable tourism potential, with the lake attracting an estimated 20,000 visitors annually, according to UNESCO. The site benefits from a visitor centre and a museum. It is undergoing improvement works, with contracts worth TT$700,000 ($108,000) executed in FY 2015 for the design and construction of a cascading waterfall and upgrades to the sewer system, according to the PSIP 2016. The TDC hopes to improve grounds and perimeter security as well as implement better parking solutions during 2016.
In Tobago improvement and upgrade works have also started at several tourist attractions, in particular Fort King George, King’s Bay, Charlotteville Beach facility and Pigeon Point. In FY 2016, TT$20m ($3.1m) is being allocated for the improvement of beaches and landing facilities at Castara, Buccoo and Plymouth, among others. Another TT$10m ($1.5m) will be used to upgrade infrastructure at Pigeon Point, T&T’s most commercially developed beach, especially popular for its clear waters suitable for sailing and kitesurfing. An additional TT$26m ($4m) has also been allocated for infrastructure works at several other sites – including the Mount Irvine and Store Bay Beach facilities – and the development of the legal framework to regulate the tourism industry.
To ensure safety and security at beaches, infrastructure upgrades are being complemented by improvements to lifeguard facilities in an effort to increase visitor satisfaction. According to the PSIP 2016, TT$2.2m ($339,000) was allocated to lifeguard services in FY 2015 and an additional TT$2.5m ($385,000) was made available for FY 2016.
Emporer Valley Zoo
Authorities have also focused on transforming Emperor Valley Zoo in Port of Spain into a key tourist attraction. The project, which benefitted from a capital investment of TT$3m ($462,000) in FY 2015, according to the PSIP 2016, is set to receive TT$5m ($770,000) in 2016, which will be used to conclude phase III of the project as well as commence phase IV. Phase III included installation of a new primate enclosure, an exhibit of South American big cats and small mammals exhibits, while phase VI will include construction of an animal hospital.
Additional sites have already been short-listed for review by the MoT for development in the short- to medium term. These include a bird-watching tower in Trinidad’s Couva region, the development of the sustainable tourism initiative Fondes Amandes Community in Port of Spain, an ecotourism site and the Lopinot Community Project, which entails the restoration of an existing cocoa house into a museum.
Three programmes in particular are expected to raise service standards and contribute to the professionalisation of the sector’s workforce. The Service, Training, Attitude, Respect (STAR) programme, launched in 2010, is a comprehensive service-quality improvement programme that targets front-line professionals, supervisors and managers through development interventions, complemented by marketing and promotional programmes and incentives to reward service delivery improvement. According to the TDC, in FY 2015 and FY 2016, 800 sector professionals will have received training under the programme, with 300 of those to receive Caribbean vocational qualification certificates. Moreover, eight properties are expected to be certified as hospitality-assured before the end of FY 2016.
To ensure tourism operators and service providers continue to adhere to quality standards, the T&T Tourism Industry Certification (TTTIC) programme is also in place. The programme is designed to ensure that T&T’s tourism sector adheres to the quality standards developed by the T&T Bureau of Standards. Certified operators are endorsed by the TDC and Tobago House of Assembly, with the TTTIC logo providing them with an additional marketing tool. While review under the programme remains voluntary, the TDC is working to introduce compulsory licensing for tourism operators in 2016, pending Cabinet approval. The agency is targeting the certification of 10% of tourism operators in 2016.
Since 2007 the Caribbean Small Tourism Enterprises Project (STEP) has contributed to the development of the tourism industry by providing a comprehensive approach to fostering innovation, high performance and profitability through industry-relevant development training. All programmes conducted in Trinidad are mirrored in Tobago to elicit simultaneous growth. STEP focuses on tour operators, guides, tourism transport services and accommodation providers of less than 75 rooms. In FY 2016 the TDC aims to train 500 stakeholders through its various programmes.