While we all applaud the Honourable Prime Minister’s recent "frown" against attacks on tourists, I remain dissatisfied that not enough is being done to innovate, market and protect our brand of tourism, weak though that brand may be, as our inefficiency at this goldmine leaves us continually vacillating while other countries prosper.
A brand is a powerful marketing tool mastering that unique product we develop, consistently nurture and promote, and which, with proper planning would later sell itself while sustaining many facets of the industry.
But, real tourism requires more of a proactive vision anticipating trends based on research data rather than our typical reactive paradigm which inevitably rendered the TTPS scrambling to address policies which were evidently lacking following the recent robbery and beatings of two separate tourist-related incidents in Tobago.
My briefcase was fished from under my dining table in a Caracas restaurant while I sat, but there is nothing more traumatising for a tourist than being violently robbed or assaulted in a foreign country, far less at gunpoint. This can leave indelible scars and detestation towards the offending country and its people.
I strongly recommend that Government urgently establish greater punishment for those who attack any tourist, which inevitably affects and demolishes our brand and weakens the national economy due to anticipated lost revenues since tourists are far more likely to be devastated and advise friends and family not to visit. We must do more than accept that "crimes committed against visitors are common occurrences in many destinations" and view this seriously as a severe crime against the country.
Tourism is now the world’s fastest growing industry, providing a plethora of economic advantages from government taxations all the way down to employment of the janitor, and despite Trinbago still being way behind, it’s not too late to create a serious and sustainable tourism plan to alleviate our shortages of foreign exchange.
Tourism is the vehicle to foster economic and social growth while minimising negative societal xenophobia, lending our uniqueness to foreign visitors while improving the quality of living for locals benefiting from its inherent infrastructure covering many downstream industries. Tourism is now a major sustainability for most Caribbean islands since banana, sugar, and bauxite are no longer competitive commodities following the advent of free-trade policies, boasting of over 28 million annual visitors, adding some $60 billion to GDP.
As we grow and nurture the brand of attracting, accommodating, transporting, feeding, and entertaining tourists, we have to consider that some tourists travel to see and do many activities unavailable in their country, and locals may also benefit from medical, religious, business, eco and cultural tourism. Strong tourism also encourages foreign direct investment further inspiring creative competition.
Further, strong brands of tourism contribute immensely to other sectors as evident in the wine regions of many producers while culturally, authentic tourism adds value as in the model of the Dalmatian coast of Croatia. Turkey was experiencing very high inflation leading to pecuniary instability and social unrest, but stabilised after pragmatic and liberalising economic policies were introduced, driven by a new tourism thrust which brought about tremendous successes. Turkey is now the world’s sixth most visited country having just opened a modern super large airport. Some of the best services I’ve experienced in my many travels are those in Asian countries, and Thailand is another remarkable tourist destination, known for its pulsating night life and lovely beaches, while its most outstanding feature is the hospitality of the Thai people exhibiting such revered respect they give visitors. Many leading tourism destinations now target their marketing to the newly affluent Chinese and Indian travellers offering great incentives while skilfully choosing not to get caught up in low-cost tourism.
While lukewarm tourism slows a country’s development and increases poverty with lingering and destabilising crime, clever strategies are needed to maximize the benefits of tourism development for our country and its people to prosper through increased forex, shopping, education, public services, better law enforcement, infrastructure development and generous budget allocations.
Carnival tourism cannot sustain us, and thus we have to seriously see tourism as the new creative engine of growth, providing safe havens for global travellers we must target and welcome to our shores.
But, sadly, having lost Sandals brand, T&T is still lazily dependant on oil, and we not ready yet!
Trevor Hosten is an entrepreneur and consumer’s advocate, and founder of Public Interest Research Group (PIRG) which petitioned Government for and obtained Trinidad’s Banking Ombudsman (now the FSO), and the Bankruptcy & Insolvency ACT of 2006.