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Tourism boost for Tobago from storms

Thursday, September 21, 2017
Hotelier tells JSC:
President of the Tobago Hoteliers Association Chris James.

Tourism traffic coming to T&T following repeated hurricane devastation up the islands in recent weeks may help Tobago through the upcoming winter period, says Chris James, president of the Tobago Hoteliers and Tourism Association.

“But what happens after those islands rebuild to a better standard than ours?” he asked Parliament’s Joint Select Committee yesterday.

James and other THTA officials spoke about hoteliers’ predicament, especially following ferry service failures, as the JSC continued examining the seabridge.

He said following Hurricane Irma the THTA offered tour operators Tobago’s help to handle displaced tourist traffic. THTA also attempted to counteract the Caribbean’s image as an at-risk hurricane-prone area.

James confirmed that when Grenada was previously affected by hurricane, Tobago’s tourism season was better the following year.

THTA’s Carol Birchwood-James, who pointed out that Tobago has the safest harbour in the Caribbean, added that recent hurricanes could provide opportunities for Tobago to promote the yachting sector once it obtains marina facilities.

“Trinidad and Tobago once had a booming yacht sector. This could bring us foreign exchange. We can’t depend on Trinidad for everything,” she said.

THTA officials emphasised that their ailing sector needs financial assistance to rebuild. Since the last JSC meeting in Tobago three weeks ago, James said, while there have been continued staff hour cutbacks, no further businesses have closed since business people will be meeting with the Bankers’ Association soon.

“But the situation will start biting ahead. We need talks with the Bankers’ Association as soon as possible to prevent more closures,” he said.

THTA officials said a $250m loan facility needs to be revisited with low—three to five per cent—interest rates rather than high commercial rates.

THTA’s Kaye Trotman said: “We need this tourism fund to be revisited. It can’t be negotiated with the Bankers’ Association. It needs the Finance and Tourism Minister’s input.”

Members want a fund such as the Downtown Owners and Merchants Association got when their businesses were destroyed in the 1990 failed coup.

THTA members urged Government to market Tobago.