More to tourism than rooms
By KARL E CUPID Tobago Bureau Thursday, July 5 2012
THE TOURISM industry is not only hotels and guest-houses and this must be fully understood by those involved in the sector as well as the authorities in Tobago, Dr Ralph Henry of Kairi Consultants Limited, stressed on Tuesday.
He put forward this position during the official presentation of a report on a study of Tobago’s tourism sector, in a document titled, “Towards a Quantitative Analysis and Modeling of Tobago’s Tourism Sector”.
The session was held at the newly-opened Victor E. Bruce Financial Complex in downtown Scarborough. The study – commissioned by the Tobago House of Assembly (THA), “to provide a framework for the further development of the sector in light of a downturn in the sector since 2008” – was conducted over several months by Kairi Consultants.
Giving a background and the terms of reference behind the study, Henry found there was a lack of statistical data and pertinent information on the tourism sector in Tobago, which led to limited success in fulfilling some of the terms of reference. “We tried to work with all the terms of reference, but were not successful in all”, he explained. Henry observed there have been very few in-depth studies of the sector in Tobago, and Trinidad and Tobago as a whole, and no specific focus has been placed on “the issues that would keep the sector alive”.
Additionally, he identified “a lack of understanding of the nature of the sector” as one of the bugbears. “You have to reinvent yourself regularly and on a continuous basis”, Henry stressed. “That’s one of the factors in the sector, and we have not been doing that”. He drew reference to the neighbouring tourism destination of Grenada, where, following the ravages of Hurricane Ivan, the authorities there had set about repairing/rebuilding the physical tourism plant to the extent where it now ranks as one of the best in the Caribbean. “What you have in Grenada today is an infrastructure, a tourism plant that makes Tobago look run-down”, he told the gathering of tourism stakeholders, including members of the Tobago Chamber of Commerce.
Also present was THA Secretary of Finance/Enterprise Development Dr Anselm London. Henry emphasised that tourism was “the industry” of Tobago, and one could not just focus on the hotel/guesthouse sector. “We have to see how we can differentiate our destination from other destinations”, he asserted. “We have lost definition of what the tourism plant is…we have lost focus!”
Alluding to the popularly held belief that Tobago was “so unique” that the visitors would always come, he stressed that Tobago was only one of many destinations that tourists could choose to visit.
He said any serious appraisal of the performance of the sector must utilise the “tourism satellite” accounting approach, which “allows you to measure what is going on in the sector apart from hotels and guest-houses”. On the question of the downturn in the global economy contributing to the decline in the local tourism sector, Henry acknowledged, “Yes, we have had a fall-out from the global recession. But our fall-out is more than the global recession, because others have bounced back”, he argued.
He said while notice must be taken of what was happening in the Caribbean, focus must also be placed on other countries, such as Costa Rica and other parts of Central America. “The world has changed radically, and we have to understand that”, he stressed. In terms of recommendations, he said there must be joint private/public sector participation, as well as the monitoring of information “about us”.
He said with respect to marketing emphasis must be placed not only the supply side, but on demand, in terms of what is expected of the destination. He also noted that the Tobago Hospitality Training Institute (THTI) has a major role to play in the whole revamping of the sector, not least in training of the workforce etc. “We don’t have to like one another to know that we sink or swim together”, said Henry. “At the end of the day, the tourism sector is critical to the transformation of Tobago; (and) let us make sure that whether or not it’s happening at the central level, it must be happening here in Tobago”. Meanwhile, Dr London announced that copies of the complete study document or an executive summary are available to members of the public at the Division of Finance/Enterprise Development, 14-16 Wilson Road, in Scarborough, or at the Division of Tourism/Transportation at Sangster’s Hill, in lower Scarborough.