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No crowds for vacation period
Although the Cabo Star vessel seems to have gotten a passing grade from Works and Transport Minister Rohan Sinanan, Tobago’s small guest house owners say they are still feeling the brunt of the sea bridge woes.
President of the Bed and Breakfast Association in Tobago, Kaye Trotman, says tourism on the island has taken a nose-dive and the promise of the arrival of a new passenger vessel in the midst of peak season will not help.
Sinanan, speaking at the commissioning of a bridge last Saturday in Tabaquite, said from all the feedback he has been getting, the Cabo Star seems to be adequate enough to meet the needs of the sea bridge.
On April 14, the previous designated inter-island cargo ferry, the Super Fast Galicia, made its last journey between the islands and was returned to its owners, after negotiations between the company and Government for a new lease arrangement broke down.
The Cabo Star is one of two vessels leased since then by Government for one year to service the sea bridge. The other vessel, the Ocean Flower 2, is scheduled to arrive here this week, Sinanan said on Monday without confirming the exact date.
But Trotman, one of the owners of Native Abode, a family-run bed and breakfast in Bon Accord, said even if the Ocean Flower 2 passenger vessel arrives within the next few weeks, the peak season for visitors to Tobago is almost over.
“The reality is the Cabo Star vessel will help some business people, but it really does nothing for the tourism sector,” Trotman said.
“Tourism has been on the decline since 2016. We saw a decrease in the amount of foreigners coming to the island so we began to rely on local tourism, but with these ferry issues that is a bust.”
“Normally I would be booked months in advance, right now I am below 20 per cent with bookings. Most of us in the association are trying to survive the hard times and unfortunately the arrival of a boat in the midst of the peak season will do nothing to assist us, as many families would have made alternative plans for vacation. It is easier for a Trinidadian to get to St Lucia or Barbados than to get to Tobago.”
Head of the Tobago Certified Tour Guide Operators, Harris Mc Donald, said he is also feeling the pinch.
Like Trotman, he said the usual rush for the July/August vacation period is almost non-existent.
“I have a five-room guest house that is usually booked months in advance, but because of the sea bridge problems I had only two sets of visitors for the entire month of July,” Mc Donald said.
“And to make matters worse, both sets of guests stayed for very short periods, so whatever I would have earned in rent basically went back into paying the cleaning lady for her services.”
Mc Donald said not even the Tourism Ministry’s ‘Staycation’ campaign is helping.
“The problem is not getting Trinis to “stay to get away,” it’s actually getting them to Tobago. The flights are all booked up, people are not risking the ‘stand-by’ option and there have been so many issues with the vessels, even if people can get ferry tickets they are just afraid to travel. This has been ongoing since Easter when we first started to have problems with the sea bridge.”
Trotman agreed, saying, “While the ‘Stay to Get Away’ campaign is commendable, it cannot operate in isolation. While you are showing off the properties we have to offer in Tobago, people also need to be able to come to island.”