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T&T...most exciting, MOST underexplored

Published: 
Sunday, December 12, 2010

Last week, I saw a beautiful Facebook status from my friend Tamara Brathwaite. She quoted from a recently published Rough Guide to Trinidad and Tobago—“Two of the most exciting, underexplored and uncontrived of the Caribbean islands, Trinidad and Tobago are rich in indigenous culture. A cultural pacemaker best known as the home and heart of West Indian Carnival, the nation can also boast of having the most diverse and absorbing society in the region.” A challenge facing efforts to market destination Trinidad and Tobago is our depth and breadth of the tourism “product.”

Please allow me to put this in context. This is the third successive week in which I reflect on the debate raging within the tourism industry. While most agree that we have a marketing problem, few can agree on how we should brand Trinidad, Tobago and of course, Trinidad and Tobago. Yes our marketing budget is only US$10 million which is closer to tiny Dominica’s budget of US$4.5 million. Jamaica will spend just under US$30 million. Barbados is usually around US$50 million. 

Yet it is more than just money as we still have a complex product proposition with separate and often inconsistent messages. This week I wanted to continue the discussion in light of the feedback I received. Personally, I do not claim to know how we should or could communicate all these often contradictory messages in a way that clarifies our offering. To convince someone in a few seconds, to visit us above other destinations, is tough. 

Turtle-watching

When I speak to those in the eco-tourism niches, they tell me about watching the sun rise in El Tucuche. They complain about the turtle-watching advertising done by the Las Baulas National Marine Park, Boca Rio Matina, Gandoca-Manzanillo National Wildlife Refuge and Corcovado National Park in Costa Rica. 
It hurts them because they know that on an average night during our turtle watching season, you will see more turtles per mile on beaches in Trinidad’s north east coast than in Costa Rica. 
Yet this is a secret and Costa Rica continues to position itself above us.

When I speak with Jeffrey Charles who organises the annual Tobago Cycling International Classic, he demonstrates that his event attracts fans from Trinidad, the region and internationally who spend just under TT$2 million. Imagine that from an initial budget of TT$600,000 raised from sponsors, about TT$1.9 million is returned to the Tobago economy. Then there is Ian Gooding, former president of the T&T Triathlon Federation, who is adamant that Tobago can become the “Triathlon Capital of the Caribbean.” In May 2011, Ian’s organisation will be organising the seventh annual Toyota Rainbow Cup International Triathlon in Tobago. 

So confident is he that he asks for a dedicated Ministry of Sports Tourism. When I listen to Umesh Rampersad, CEO of West Shore Medical who, on behalf of the Private Hospitals Association of Trinidad & Tobago (PHATT), speak about the potential of medical tourism, I hear his passion. He reminds us of our proximity to the US market, which a Deloitte report tells us will send 6.75 million residents abroad for medical treatment in 2010. Rampersad explains that our private sector has approximately 325 hospital beds or 118 625 beds available annually which can accommodate 39 542 patients annually. 

He wonders about the work of the e-Teck’s Medical Tourism Work Group that was established and whether stakeholders in the wider tourism sector really appreciate how much of a “giant” this niche can be. Jamaica is a destination that, like us, also has a wide variety of products. Yet in the midst of a downturn in visitor numbers that has veterans like St Lucia and Barbados under pressure, Jamaica remains the only English-speaking Caribbean destination to still register positive growth in both visitor arrivals and visitor spend. 

One Love
They have synthesized everything into the tag line—“once you go, you know.”  As local Community Tourism consultant Yolande Selman likes to remind me, Jamaica sells a “feeling” epitomised by Bob Marley’s song—One Love. How can we learn from Jamaica and effectively capture and communicate in the few seconds that average consumer grants us—what Trinidad and Tobago has to offer? Someone once suggested to me—“feel the energy.”  Whatever the final branding, it probably would not please everyone, but I pray that it works. Our arrivals continue to slide and Tobago especially is under pressure. We cannot continue doing the same things and expect a different result. My name is Derren Joseph and I love my country. As always, I end by saying that despite our challenges, we are so blessed to live in this beautiful land. Let us continue to have the audacity of hope in the future of our beloved country.