The attention being paid by the Minister of Tourism Stephen Cadiz to attracting international airlines to fly new routes into Tobago is one very positive element of the outreach by the Government to resuscitate tourism on the island.
For Tobago, tourism continues to be the major employer—that is, outside direct government employment. It is the major foreign-exchange earner and the industry with the most immediate potential to create sustainable development into the future.
It is in this context then, that the indications of plans by the minister to secure the services of a yet-to-be-named Scandinavian airline are pivotal to resuscitating tourism in Tobago.
There have been major reductions in visitor arrivals in Tobago and indeed all over the Caribbean over the last six years since the international recession began to affect incomes and the ability of people to travel as they once did.
In particular, Tobago suffered considerably as several European countries, which have traditionally been the major source markets for visitors to Tobago, went into debt crises. Potential travellers lost jobs, income and hence the wherewithal to travel abroad.
In addition to contracting the services of the Scandinavian airline, the tourism minister is also assuring the continuation of flights out of Europe on Condor and Monarch. He is also involved in discussions with WestJet to fly into Tobago from Canada.
Cadiz is also seeking to continue discussions with Virgin Atlantic, which will now only fly into Tobago during the winter months, as its passenger load is not large enough for the airline to fly to Tobago during summer.
One other element of the good news from Cadiz is the incentive package being given to Tobago hoteliers to refurbish and upgrade their properties, whatever their size.
Vital to the revival of tourism in Tobago is the expansion of the tourism product on the island. Sand, sea and sun can no longer by themselves compete against many other tourism-savvy destinations in the Caribbean and as far away as the Middle East. Cultural and environmentally-conscious tourism and the involvement of people sharing with their visitors are areas into which the product is expanding internationally.
At the same time, the bad rap Tobago has had over the last five years, with a few high-profile crimes against tourists, needs to be countered quickly and decisively.
It is unfortunate that tourism in Tobago has been allowed to suffer and decline for so long and to such an extent before receiving the attention it needs.
Another change of perspective may still be needed.
Trinidad has often featured in plans to develop tourism in T&T, but the fact is that to this day, tourists disembarking from the occasional cruise ship docking in Port-of-Spain remain rare, and are objects of pity. The city and the island are not cut out for tourism. Apart from the odd eco-tourist who wants to go birdwatching or the expat returning home for Carnival, Trinidad has little to offer vacationing visitors. Museums, beaches, stately homes, historical sites and safe, clean visitor sites are abysmally lacking or few and far between.
No amount of advertising can change those facts.
There are just not many options for developing a vibrant industry in Trinidad where a culture of poor service and the lack of the proper environment to be competitive in the sector have made it difficult to achieve success.
Luckily, Trinidad has many other options. Tourism-dependent Tobago does not.
In the circumstances, then, it makes more sense to focus resources and energy on developing Tobago’s tourism.