For the first time in six years, international tourist arrivals has increased in Tobago. This has been confirmed by the Secretary for Tourism and Transport Oswald Williams, who, in an interview with the Business Guardian, said unless there was catastrophic fallout of arrivals in December, 2012 would see an increase in international arrivals.
He told the Business Guardian: “Let me say frontally that for this year so far, for the first time since 2005, we have seen a halt in the decline. It’s December—we have not seen the those figures as yet—but unless there is a catastrophic December, at the end of this year, we would have turned the tide in the decline in international arrivals.”
Williams said Tobago, like all other destinations in the Caribbean, has paid a high price for the sovereign debt crisis that shook the European Union at its very foundation. He explained that most of the tourists that come to the island land from Europe, in particular Germany, which has remained relatively strong and the UK, which continues to be soft.
The Tourism Secretary told Business Guardian that in order to counteract the fallout, the Tobago House of Assembly (THA) has invested resources in looking at other markets.
“We would have been looking, therefore, towards to west. We have been looking at Canada, we have been looking at the United States. We have also gone back and looked at the Scandinavia, with whom we have had excellent relationships with in the past. We would have gone back and started to intensify our efforts in that market,” Wilson explained.
He said the Division of Tourism has also tried to increase arrivals from other countries with German affinity, including Austria, where flights out of Frankfurt could accommodate them.
On the issue of airlink and the controversy surrounding Virgin Airways flying to Tobago, Williams dismissed any suggestion that Virgin Atlantic was pulling out of Tobago. He explained that the airline will not be flying in 2013 during the low summer period and is not only flying to Tobago in the winter of 2013, but is flying two flights out of the sister island.
Tourism Minister Stephen Cadiz has blamed the THA for what he said was its refusal to corporate that let to “Virgin pulling out of Tobago. Williams said Cadiz’s assertion was absolutely false and that anyone can simply test it by trying to book a flight on Virgin during the 2013 winter period.
He said what the Tourism Minister and the Government should be worried about was the harm that the ANR Robinson International Airport was doing to the tourism product.
He explained the airport was simply too small for international passengers’ needs.
“For this winter, we have Condor coming on a Monday, we have BA coming on a Monday. Virgin wanted to bring a second flight for the winter and they wanted to come on a Monday. In order to accommodate three flights on the same day, the airports authority had to ask Virgin to stagger its hours.
“In order to make that happen, Virgin may have to go Grenada to drop off passengers and stay a little longer in Grenada so that BA and Condor could first be processed.”
The Tourism Secretary was also critical of Caribbean Airlines Ltd for its operations of the domestic airbridge. He said it is often easier to get an international flight out of Trinidad than a domestic flight out of Piarco.
Williams said this was hampering the efforts of the island administration to attract more domestic tourists.