T&T's tourism industry is lagging behind the rest of the Caribbean says Tourism Minister Shamfa Cudjoe who is calling for more focus to be placed on its development.
Cudjoe, in the feature address at the symposium Tourism is My Business hosted jointly by the Tourism Development Company (TDC) and the Small Tourism Enterprises Project (STEP) at the Hyatt Regency in Port-of-Spain, said: "We have become very dependent and very comfortable relying on the energy sector and in this current time we have learned that we can't do that anymore."
The minister said for many years the call for diversification and investments in the tourism sector had been ignored causing T&T's tourism sector to fall further behind countries in the region.
"Over the year's red flags were being raised and the alarm was being sounded that we needed to diversify the economy but we became complacent so that even as the alarms went off, the calls for diversification were ignored," Cudjoe said.
"Now we have no other choice but to get up and move aggressively to put the necessary measures in place to reposition the tourism sector. For this government, the tourism sector is a strategic development priority."
She said a change of mindset is needed: "For many years jobs in the tourism sector, be it in hotels or restaurants, were seen as jobs for poor people or people who didn't excel academically.
"To a large extent today that type of thinking is still alive so are confronted with the challenge of having to change the mindset as it relates to building a career in the tourism industry."
Cudjoe cited statistics from the World Tourism Organization (WTO) which show that growth in the global tourism industry is expected to outstrip growth in the global economy over next decade.
She said: "In 2015, travel and tourism contributed US$7.2 trillion to world GDP with the sector supporting 284 million jobs and growing by 3.1 per cent. It is projected that travel and tourism will outperform the global economy throughout the next decade growing by an average of four per cent annually through the next ten years."
The minister added that the Caribbean had set new records in terms of spending and tourist arrivals and tourism grew by an estimated seven per cent to 28.7 million visits, much higher than the expected 4-5 per cent predicted and above the global rate of growth.
"Visitors to the region spent over US$1 billion more than they spent in 2014 contributing to approximately US$30 billion to Caribbean economies which is 4.2 per cent higher than the US$28.8 billion spent in the previous year." she said.