For T&T’s tourism sector to be marketed effectively, a comprehensive assessment and agreement on the products it possesses and their state of readiness—standards and quality, for consumption by international tourists is first needed.

CEO of the Trinidad Hotels, Restaurants and Tourism Association, Brian Frontin, suggested a “tourism product readiness audit” that would establish which products were ready for market, which required remediation or upgrades and which were still in early stages of development. This audit, he said, would assess the appetite and consumption patterns in source markets, and marketing funds should be targeted there.

The former chairman of the Tourism Development Corporation (TDC) said while destination marketing was a function of the TDC, a proper marketing strategy should be done with full collaboration among the TDC, the Ministry of Tourism, and the tourism private sector bodies.

Frontin spoke with the Sunday Guardian recently after the THRTA held its general members meeting a few weeks ago. There, members of the association, namely hotels, restaurants and tour operators discussed their main challenges.

The THRTA was formed in 1999 with a mandate to be the main private sector representational body for the tourism industry performing a pivotal role between the policy makers, policy implementers and the private sector.

The top three challenges were labour, absence of comprehensive tourism master plan and stagnant international arrivals due to limited destination marketing.

Despite the development over the years of hotels, guesthouses, villas, restaurants and attractions by the state and private sector, there has been flat performance with international arrivals.

International arrivals over the past five years averaged 425,000 a year; the main reason cited was general unfamiliarity with the destinations in the international tourist source markets such as the United States, Canada, United Kingdom and Europe.

Frontin said, “Regarding Trinidad hotels’ performance, according to the Smith Travel Report for 2015, Trinidad hoteliers had an average occupancy of 66 per cent whereas the Caribbean’s average was 68.8 per cent. The average daily rates, however, from which Government earns a room-tax of 10 per cent for Trinidad hoteliers stood at US$160, whereas the Caribbean average was at US$229.”

He said this distinction had much to do with the type of properties (including several integrated resorts) that were available throughout the Caribbean. But, he said despite this performance, destination T&T has connectivity to several tourism source markets in North America, Latin America, Caribbean and Europe through international carriers as well as local carrier, Caribbean Airlines.

According to the Caribbean Tourism Organisation, T&T recorded one of the highest growth rates in arrivals from a single market -14.9 per cent year-on-year from the US market for 2015. Overall international arrivals in 2015 (440,000) represented a 6.6 per cent increase over 2014, which was attributed to additional airlift provided by new market entrant JetBlue.

Frontin said he believed that the destination’s medium-term target for an increase in international arrivals should be 600,000 by 2018 and 750,000 by 2020. He said, “These increases would build the business-case for increasing the number of new hotel investments as well as increase airlift from current and perhaps new destinations.”

Upward movement over next five years
By setting milestones and having a proper plan, Frontin said there could be noteworthy upward movement in international arrivals within the next 24-36 months and significant contributions from tourism to the T&T economy within five years.

Aside from effective destination marketing campaigns, he said there needed to be simultaneous efforts on the ground which should include overall improvement and rehabilitation of sites and attractions to ensure tourism operators conduct business at a high standard.

Frontin said, “One of the key performance indicators for the tourism sector in any destination is international arrivals, given that increases in these numbers have a positive impact on all aspects of the tourism value chain such as accommodation, restaurants, tours, taxis and car rentals.

“As such, it would be important to measure marketing strategies against this KPI and set milestones over the medium term. “Travel decisions in most markets are made between six to 12 months ahead of stay dates and are sometimes seasonal so measuring the true impact of a destination marketing campaign would only be possible approximately 18-24 months after its launch.”

THRTA heartened by govt’s inclusion of tourism
Based on the current economic landscape in T&T, what needed to be considered in reframing the economy was identifying growth sectors which could readily contribute to job creation and foreign-exchange earnings. Frontin said, “It is the THRTA’s respectful view that the tourism sector is one of the few that would provide these in the short-to-medium term.”

The THRTA was heartened by the acknowledgements by the Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley and the Minister of Finance Colm Imbert of the importance of tourism to the country’s diversification agenda during the Finance Variation of the Appropriation Bill 2016 at Parliament on Friday.

Reference was made to ongoing discussions with foreign investors regarding a five-star hotel and a much-needed convention centre to be located at Invaders Bay.