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Bumper tourist arrivals expected for Carnival
Hotels in Trinidad will see full occupancy for the Carnival period but more needs to be done to ensure there is full occupancy rates in hotels for the rest of the year, says Brian Frontin, CEO, Trinidad Hotels, Restaurants & Tourism Association (THRTA).
“We tend to analyse Port-of-Spain and environs separate from those in the rest of the country. Outside of Port-of-Spain, generally, it trends around 50 to 55 per cent occupancy during Carnival.
“The Port-of-Spain properties are trending to 100 per cent. We are seeing lengths of stay—which is how many nights people are booking for—and it seems to be five to seven days. This is also a good sign because there is a longer stay period. People will be checking in on Wednesdays or Thursdays, throughout the weekend until the next week,” he told the Business Guardian in an interview on Monday.
Frontin said those checking in are generally foreigners with 80 to 90 per cent of the guests originating out of Trinidad.
He added there have not been any major cancellations due to the recent US travel restrictions in which US President Trump signed an executive order to ban immigrants from seven Muslim majority countries entering the United States.
The American court system eventually agreed to an injunction that stayed the application of the decree.
“This has not featured on the arrival trends for Carnival. Trinidadians from overseas returning for Carnival seem not to be impacted by this US travel ban even though there were advisories by certain US attorneys that person with green cards should refrain from travel back to their countries of origin,” he said.
In January, Dr Nyan Gadsby-Dolly, Minister of Community Development, Culture and Arts, spoke about stagnant tourist arrivals and dwindling audiences at Carnival events.
The minister was responding to an urgent question from Opposition Senator Wade Mark shortly before the adjournment of the Upper House last month on the issue of the confusion surrounding the roles of Pan Trinbago, Trinbago Unified Calypsonians Organisation (Tuco), the National Carnival Bandleaders Association (NCBA) and the National Carnival Commission (NCC) in the staging of Carnival.
Hotel occupancy figures
According to the THRTA, the Caribbean Tourism Organisation’s (CTO) statistics show that for the year 2016 tourist arrivals in T&T totalled 408,782. This was a seven per cent decline from 2015 as the total tourist arrivals in the country for that year was 439, 749.
Frontin also spoke about a decline in hotel room occupancy, comparing December 2016 to December 2015.
He said this data is based on 60 per cent of the room stock availability in Trinidad.
“Occupancy in those hotels fell by eight per cent and this trend resulted in a loss of earnings. The hotels reported a nine per cent reduction in earnings as well moving from US $96 million in 2015 to US $87.8 million at the end of 2016. So there was material drop both in terms of occupancy and revenue.
“The knock-on impact to that is less Government tax. The ten per cent room tax that the Government earns would have fallen as well,” he said.
Frontin attributes this fall to deficiencies in T&T’s destination marketing. He explained that this term means an awareness of where T&T is.
“When people know where the destination is then they can start exploring the opportunities like hotels, restaurants, tours and other attractions. The drop is in T&T’s major source markets which are the USA, Canada and the Caribbean.”
Frontin said he does not want to blame any single individual or organisation but, at the same time, he believes the Government has the key responsibility, through the Ministry of Tourism and the Tourism Development Company (TDC), in the marketing of T&T as a destination.
“The private sector through the THRTA and other associations has a role to influence where this marketing should take place because obviously our properties are familiar with the trends in terms of traveling, guests and others.”
Frontin said the country cannot have a situation with these types of declines because while Carnival is trending this influx is only for five to seven days.
“If the country is talking about economic diversification, the trends are not indicating that the arrivals are there to support the earnings for the hotels that produce the tax dollar and the jobs. Carnival, by itself, cannot be the bumper part of the year. After all there are 365 days.”
He gave tourist arrivals statistics for the Carnival period in February, for the last three years for T&T combined.
In 2014, it was 44,029; in 2015, 48, 000 and in 2016, the figure was 42,000.
“The reason for the increase from 2014 to 2015—which was a very good year for hotels and arrivals—had a lot to do with the introduction of the Jet Blue flight in 2014. There would have been more air lift coming out of North America, between New York and Florida. There was definitely more connectivity,” he said.
Frontin said only at the end of the month of February would the association have an idea of what the tourist arrivals are for this Carnival season.
“While the hotel occupancy rate for the Carnival period is 100 per cent, for the rest of the year it is only over 60 per cent,” he said.
Frontin said countries like Barbados and Jamaica are putting their brands onto the international market and so must Trinidad.
“Their hotels would be able to engage with the interested travelers. This is why destination promotion is so important.”
To remedy this, Frontin said his association has made a series of recommendations to the Government through the Ministry of Tourism. They have also called for a joint marketing committee between the private sector and the Government, where they help guide where the marketing should be focused.
“We believe our tax dollars—through the room tax—is significant enough for us to have a voice and a seat at the table in discussing where our hotels need the marketing to be. We are awaiting feedback from the Government on those proposals.”
Given the country’s economic slump, he said it now more urgent than ever to use tourism as one of the drivers of economic diversification.
“In a crisis, you have to make bold and deliberate decisions very quickly because markets and tourists do not wait on you to get yourself together. They will go to what is being promoted and what is being advertised.”
Frontin also spoke about the benefits of promoting the two islands of Trinidad and Tobago as separate brands.
“Going forward, we need to be focused on how we market Trinidad and Tobago. If you listen to the newly appointed Chief Secretary of the Tobago House of Assembly (THA), he would like the THA to focus on marketing Tobago as a brand and the establishment of a tourism authority to promote and market Tobago as a brand.
“I think this is a very positive direction for the THA. What we need, in turn, is very focused activity for Trinidad. This can only come from the Ministry of Tourism and the TDC,” he said.