Interview: Janelle Commissiong
How will tourism promotion efforts work towards showcasing each island’s product offering?
JANELLE COMMISSIONG: Each island will benefit from the development and marketing of its particular niche markets. Currently, there are around 391,000 foreign arrivals per year in Trinidad and 19,000 in Tobago. With improved sea and air traffic services it will become easier to sample the benefits of both islands at a marginal cost. Furthermore, through the canvassing of foreign arrivals the attractions of both islands will be made known to all visitors, and they will be encouraged to expand their interest to the other island.
What can be done to increase the impact of tourism on the economy and the hard currency yield?
COMMISSIONG: Our focus will be to increase the number of arrivals throughout the year by strategically promoting the most lucrative markets. This will obviously benefit direct stakeholders in the industry, such as tour operators and hotel owners. Significantly, most visitors have a direct prior connection to Trinidad, such as a family member or business associate. In order to further develop these connections, Trinbagonians need to be educated about the available tourism offering, as well as the overall economic benefits of the industry. They should know about our history, be aware of the island’s historical sites and actively promote the locations and activities it offers. In this way the flow of hard currency will improve in tandem with increased arrivals.
What are the most significant investment opportunities in the Trinidad and Tobago tourism sector?
COMMISSIONG: In Trinidad the former Carlton Savannah is being completely renovated and rebranded as the Brix Hotel by Marriott, and there is also a 125-room hotel on the cards for San Fernando. Trinidad requires investment in the development of its assets to make them more attractive to both the tourism market and local investors. For example, Port of Spain’s tourism offering must be developed with a particular emphasis on Carnival. There are both short- and long-term projects which must be undertaken, including a new venue for steel band performances and the Carnival parade.
The north coast beach facilities at Maracas and Las Cuevas are also being improved, and there are a number of beaches, rivers and waterfalls that can be reached by more adventurous tourists. On the east and north coasts of the island turtle watching is an obvious market that can be developed. Furthermore, boating, sailing and fishing in Chaguaramas are currently underdeveloped segments. Additionally, there are child-friendly developments in progress in Chaguaramas, including a water park, a fun park and a zip line. In central Trinidad and in the south, religious and ethnic festivals provide an attraction for interested tourists.
In a rather competitive regional market, how could T&T become a significant new player?
COMMISSIONG: Obviously, we cannot go from 391,000 visitors per year to 6.1m like the Bahamas. In order to increase the number of arrivals, we need to expand beyond Carnival season, when most hotel rooms are filled. We see new markets developing around other festival opportunities at other times of the year, such as the student holiday season during July and August. Furthermore, small conventions can be accommodated in our existing facilities, while sports tourism can be developed using our stadia and marketed directly to the diaspora in North America, Europe and the Caribbean.
Trinidad has diverse culinary options that are the envy of most developed markets. These include Creole, Indian, Chinese, Syrian and Lebanese cuisine, as well as a broad variety of local fruits and vegetables. In addition, the room stock on the island is flexible, and, thanks to online rental platforms such as Airbnb, they can respond quickly to the shifting needs of the market, especially during periods when demand for accommodation is particularly high, such as Carnival and Easter.
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