Interview: Adam Stewart
What are the country’s competitive advantages in tourism over its Caribbean neighbours?
ADAM STEWART: As an oil-based economy, the islands’ rainforests and landscape remain virtually undiscovered and unexplored, which we find very attractive. Very much like Turks and Caicos, Tobago is one of the last true exotic locations in the Caribbean. One of its best-kept secrets is its great variety of flora and fauna compared to the majority of other Caribbean islands. Geographically, Trinidad and Tobago is in the south, placing it away from extreme weather activity, which is a major problem for holiday-makers and resorts. Also, with oil prices dropping, the government is more amenable to developing the island’s tourism sector than ever before. Finally, from an operational standpoint, at only $0.03 cents per KW, utility costs are far below the regional average, which is upwards of $0.30 cents.
What benefits can resort tourism bring to the wider Tobagonian economy?
STEWART: Not only will resort tourism be a key source of foreign exchange, the linkages created will inject revenue directly into the economy. This includes creating employment for hundreds of locals including taxi drivers, farmers, fishermen, craftsmen and entertainers, further stimulating the economy. A resort the size of what is proposed to be built in Tobago will result in over 100 local excursions per day, consume roughly 2000 eggs each day and involve the movement of over 200 local taxis on an arrival day. This takes place all year round because Sandals operates 365 days a year. High-profile resorts will also lead to greater international exposure – particularly within the North American market – elevating the island’s profile and resulting in improved airlift and more arrivals. Furthermore, not every person will stay at a Sandals resort, with many choosing other local hotels, thus helping the sector overall.
How could the country better leverage its unique cultural assets to improve tourist arrivals?
STEWART: Trinidad and Tobago is where the steelpan was invented, and it is the land of soca and calypso. Its carnival is also considered by many worldwide as the greatest show on earth. Much as the diversity of its people is reflected in the diversity of its cuisine, the ingredients that make up the culture and traditions of Trinidad and Tobago are rich, vibrant and well-preserved – from the Tobago harvest to the goat and crab races. What it lacks is proper exposure and marketing. Basic destination marketing needs to be done on a consistent basis. With Sandals Resorts investing millions of dollars in advertising and marketing, the world will know the unique offerings of Tobago. Sandals will also bring hospitality training to the island to contribute to the development of the island’s human resource capacity, which is a key factor to sustaining and enhancing the tourism sector.
How could greater regional collaboration benefit the tourism sector of the Caribbean as a whole?
STEWART: It is no secret that tourism is the mainstay for many Caribbean islands, earning foreign exchange and providing business and job opportunities for the local population. The region should acknowledge that tourism is by far the single largest industry that has to be managed properly by the Caribbean Community. Island states can then plan integrated strategies on that basis, getting buy-in from regional governments, which in turn can lend itself to a holistic approach for marketing the region and managing the tourism product. On a more immediate basis, it will allow governments to address the major challenges that are impacting travel between the islands, such as the high cost of airfare and the inefficiency of intra-regional flights. Addressing this will not only benefit incoming tourists, but it will also enhance the tourism sector of the wider region.
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