With oil and gas exploration drying up, Trinidad & Tobago is developing a sustainable policy framework that will include the protection and enhancement of the human physical environment, community involvement and acknowledgement of the local world-class culture.
Oil and gas currently provides 85 per cent of the country’s revenue, but the sector employs just five per cent of the working population. The energy sector, which is not sustainable, accounts for 45 per of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
“It (oil and gas) will one day disappear and this administration has made a conscious decision to build the other parts of the economy with tourism as one of the main pillars,” said Trinidad & Tobago’s Tourism Minister, Stephen Cadiz, at last week’s Caribbean Tourism Organization (CTO) 14th annual sustainable tourism development conference at the Hyatt Regency in Port-of-Spain. “Sustainable tourism development is no longer just a mere cliché. Over the past decade or so, there has been a tremendous body of research and discussion regarding conservation and protection of our resources. Most stakeholders have come to realize that it is in our own interest to devise ways and means to correct whatever could still be remedied.”
The theme of this year’s conference was “Keeping the Right Balance: Enhancing Destination Sustainability Through Products, Partnerships & Profitability.”
An entrepreneur and activist, Cadiz noted that the conference could not have been held at a better time, as the Caribbean tourism economy is exposed to the full brunt of the global recession and intense competition for world tourism market share from European and Asian countries.
“The Caribbean faces many challenges, but I am convinced that any problems we face are far outweighed by the great opportunities we now have to grow tourism,” said Cadiz. “It is critical that we lay aside differences and forge ahead in the true Caribbean spirit to discuss these issues and identify joint solutions to the challenges facing our industry.
“I firmly believe Trinidad & Tobago has an enormous opportunity to become a major player in the tourism industry in the Caribbean region…This government is committed to developing and expanding our tourism industry and we are looking to tourism to stimulate a greater level of inward investment, foreign exchange and earnings and employment.”
Tourism accounts for just seven per cent of the GDP and there were about 460,000 arrivals with foreign addresses last year.
“Whether or not those are Trinidadians and Tobagonians living away for many years in the diaspora, we count them as a visitor,” said Cadiz.
The twin-islands recorded their highest visitor arrivals – 550,000 – four years ago when Trinidad & Tobago hosted the fifth Summit of the Americas and the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting.
Cadiz, who has siblings residing in the Greater Toronto Area, expressed concern that Canadian visitors are choosing other destinations over T & T.
“We have lost a lot of business from Canada,” he said. “They are now heading to Cuba. Then again, our local branding is not what it should be and the traditional Canadian visitor has been out of word of mouth. There has never been a concerted effort or marketing program to attract Canadians who are high yield travellers.”
Nearly 10,000 Canadians visited T & T last year.
Five months ago, WestJet launched daily non-stop service to Port-of-Spain as part of its winter schedule.
Cadiz said the government is in discussions with WestJet to increase flights to the twin-island republic.
To increase its reach and make T & T a destination of choice for visitors, the Ministry of Tourism will launch a global marketing initiative at the World Travel Market in London in November.
“We will be going out for tender very soon,” said Cadiz. “What we are looking for is a company that has global reach and one which understands the markets that we are going into. Apart from the traditional markets of North America, the United Kingdom and the rest of Europe, Trinidad & Tobago will be targeting other areas of the globe.”