Challenges ahead for Tobago Tourism


Tobago’s reliance on international tourists, principally from Europe and the United Kingdom, threatens to negatively impact the island’s economy during this year’s August (summer) and winter business cycles, says Nicholas Hardwicke, president of the Tobago Hotel and Tourism Association.

He said European/UK bookings and eventual arrivals for this period in the sister isle were set to decline drastically, citing a series of universally exciting events happening in their backyards over the next three months—starting with the staging of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations, then the Olympic Games and the European Football Cup.

Hardwicke said the island’s inability to diversify its source market and woo vacationers from other potentially lucrative destinations had now put property owners in a precarious situation coming off the bumper first six months that 2012 offered. “So basically, at a time when we would be catering for family vacations and group packages coming from Europe, they have all the reasons to stay home. And on top of that, we have talk of (the) Greek crisis, (a) banking crisis in Spain now (and) things like that. There is rising unemployment in Europe and the UK. There seems to be more reasons to stay home than come out here,” said Hardwicke.

“We are not that equipped to respond to it. Unfortunately over the years, because of a lack of marketing, the only thing that we’re really had to get ourselves noticed out there was price; to offer a really cheap price. “Many properties here have no more that they can give.

They can’t discount anymore than they are doing now. It’s difficult. They don’t have any savings to buffer them throughout these hard times because of the prolonged downward cycle that we’ve been in over the past four to five years. I think that the next three months are going to be tough. The reasons are beyond our control. There is nothing we can do about it.”

Tobago hoteliers are now banking on a spike in domestic tourism to drive commerce and ultimately stabilize business for the next two quarters. Hardwicke said Trinidadians choosing Tobago for a weekend getaway or longer during the August vacation “has basically been the difference between survival and failure,” for his members.

He also expressed hope that the European economy and travel appetite of their citizens would return by September and their preferred destination would be Tobago. Challenges facing Tobago tourism comes just as the Tobago House of Assembly (THA) unveiled a new marketing plan for the island with the approval stakeholders.

Hardwicke said, “The THA has a very good marketing plan. It’s a little late in its production for this year, but better late than never. They have actually got a decent budget for this year. It’s about $60 million, some $20 million more than it has been in previous years.

They are committed and we are seeing that commitment. We are seeing that progress. It’s slow. It’s a lot slower than we’d like. Some of those things are going to have an impact. I would expect that the winter season 2012-2013 is going to be better than it was last year.”

While THA chief secretary Orville London wrangles with Arts and Multiculturalism Minister Winston “Gypsy” Peters over the practicality of hosting a second Carnival, in Tobago, Hardwicke said his members welcome the idea. Peters called for the second Carnival. London rejected it.

But Hardwicke declared that his membership was backing the minister on this initiative which could keep business afloat. “From a private sector point of view we will like to see that. There are examples across that Caribbean that say Carnival doesn’t have to be wedded to a religious time frame in the year.

I don’t think I will be particularly thanked for saying this by the chief secretary, because he has said absolutely, no to a second Carnival. But the fact is that I have to express the views of my membership and it’s my view, too, that having a second Carnival, later down in the year, in Tobago, could become a specific event with a Tobago feel that speaks to our unique culture that is well away from any competition with the Trinidad event, would do us well,” said Hardwicke.

“We know for a fact that 50 per cent of the people (in Tobago) who play Carnival go to Trinidad. They are going to do that irrespective of what we have, because we are never going to able to compete with the big bands and the big noise and the glamour and the people down there. “Having our own event with our own unique signature to it, will help us to create another opportunity on the island.”