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Crime, sharing economy affecting brand T&T
Trinidad & Tobago, though possessing exciting music, tasty food and even beaches comparable in some respects to other Caribbean islands has not been able to capture the tourist arrivals as the other countries in the region.
Jamaica and Cuba for example, experience millions of arrivals annually. Both countries received over 4 million tourists each to their respective islands in 2017.
While T&T has a product like Carnival to sell the country as destination at this time of the year, it has had mixed success over the years.
The Guardian spoke to different stakeholders in the industry to see how well the country will do this year compared to prior years.
DECLINE IN TOURIST ARRIVALS
Brian Frontin, Chief Executive Officer, Trinidad Hotels, Restaurants, and Tourism Association (THRTA) told Sunday Business that for the hotels in the Port-of-Spain/West areas, the larger properties (95 rooms and over) are trending 95-100 percent occupancy at this time.
“In some instances, hoteliers are reporting shorter length-of-stays, with guests requesting 3-4 day stay periods in 2018, as opposed to 5-7 or longer stay periods. One of the contributing factors to the reduced occupancy observed in the smaller properties may be linked to the increase in Airbnb activity in Trinidad, a phenomenon of the global sharing economy which also includes players such as Uber (for transport).
“Essentially, private home-owners are now listing their properties on the Airbnb online application and directly hosting visitors to their homes. If this continues unchecked, there is the real potential for increased foreign exchange hoarding and taxation leakage. The THRTA believes that the Government has the primary role to create a level ‘playing field’ and ensure all forms of accommodation in Trinidad are operating with minimum health/safety standards and contributing fairly to the economy via taxation payments.”
He said that it is very likely that international arrivals to T&T for 2017 have fallen below the 400,000 mark, representing at minimum, a 9 percent reduction since 2015.
“The collapsed ‘sea-bridge’ with respect to the passenger ferries and the ongoing challenges with airlift between Trinidad and Tobago, along with increasing levels of crime are also serious contributing factors to the reduction in international arrivals, given the negative perceptions of the destination being created, with no counter-balancing messages by the Government to our main tourist source markets,” he said.
CARNIVAL MOMEMTUM SLOWING
Lisa Shandilya, General Manager, Chancellor Hotel, told Sunday Business that the almost half of their guests are repeat clientele this carnival.
“The Chancellor Hotel carnival bookings have been established with repeat clientele, which we have about 40 percent of our room stock, the other rooms would be allocated to other interested visitors for the season. Even though we are a small independent property, those who are familiar with our product offering would choose to stay with us because of our location, standards, our safety measures, facilities and our rate.”
She said that this is the first year they had less requests from British travellers who would normally come as couples or big groups for long periods.
“In the later part of January 2018, two of our family suites were cancelled by a group of female British first time visitors. They expressed their concerns based on the British Advisory about the level of crime in Trinidad. Those rooms, in the previous years would have been sold in a matter of days, but this year I do not have a wait list or the increased level of demand.”
She spoke about the spending habits of those from the diaspora.
“The few requests, from some diaspora visitors are for low cost accommodation or apartments, which I think is ironic as they pay no heed to safety, conveniences, house-keeping services, insurance for stay at property or basic facilities.
Interestingly, St Ann’s hotel hub area has lost at least 100 rooms from Carlton Savannah which was closed in the latter part of 2017. And there is also a substantial drop in demand for nine night stays, with most visitors interested in coming in for a week to fete and play mas. I think it is glaringly obvious that our Carnival is losing momentum in demand for our only satiable travel period for the year.”
Mark, who is Canadian, is in T&T for his second carnival experience. He told Sunday Business that he is not staying at a hotel but at the house of friends.
He met T&T nationals in his native Canada who invited him to Trinidad for the first time in 2016.
He described T&T’s carnival as “amazing.”
“This is a beautiful country with a vibrant culture. I’ve been to Jamaica and the Bahamas but they’re pretty different from T&T. Those islands have a strong tourist culture while T&T is more of a business and industrial island. Carnival shows off the lighter side of the country with its colours, mas and great food. This island has a lot of potential for more travellers to visit. I’ve already told some of my friends from Canada to visit in 2019,” he said.
He declined to say how much money he’ll be spending but spoke about local pepper sauces and handicraft he wishes to take back to Canada.
“There’s so much to this country. Apart from watching mas with my Trini friends, I’m also buying stuff from T&T to carry back home. I bought the food here, I love the colourful handicraft, I’ll carry back some Trinidad t-shirts. I’ve got a lot to show off on when I get back to Canada.”
Ryan, a Trinidadian by birth, has been living in the United States for over 15 years. He moved from Arima to New York with his family and has visited Trinidad for carnival at least three times.
He told Sunday Business that he misses home and the carnival experience gives him that “true Trini feeling.”
“I’m busy and can’t visit every year, but when I can, I do return. I don’t play mas but I spend my money on my family here in Trinidad, we go out to the streets on Carnival Monday and Tuesdays. We’re going liming in some of the fetes.”
When asked how T&T has changed since he left, he admitted that the crime rate is much higher now, although the country is much more developed.
“I don’t feel as safe as when I’m in New York but I love my culture and the free culture of my native land. Nothing beats a Trini carnival no matter what other problems that exist in the country,” he said.
TOURIST ARRIVALS BY THE NUMBERS
According to the Central Statistical Office (CSO), visitor arrivals for the Carnival period 2017 were monitored from February 10 to February 28, 2017. The Carnival period includes the seventeen days prior to the Carnival celebration as well as Carnival Monday and Tuesday, a total of 19 days.
The total visitor arrivals for the Carnival period to Trinidad and Tobago was 37,448 persons, with Trinidad recording 35,269 and Tobago 2,179 Arrivals.
The week immediately preceding Carnival Monday and Tuesday (February 20 to 26) registered 19,027 visitor arrivals or approximately 51 percent of the total arrivals for the period. The largest number of visitors during this week was recorded on Carnival Thursday (February 23rd): 3, 652 visitors.
The CSO administers the Survey of Departing Visitors (SODV) for the 10 days subsequent to Carnival Tuesday (March 1 to 10, 2017) with a view to monitor the expenditure patterns of visitors for the Carnival period in both Trinidad and Tobago.
Data was collected on 3,286 persons from the Survey of Departing Visitors (SODV) with an average expenditure per visitor reported as approximately TT$8,943
When the average visitor expenditure (TT$8,943.00) is factored into the total Carnival visitor arrivals (37,448 persons), the estimated visitor expenditure for the Carnival period for Trinidad and Tobago is $334,897,464.00.
In 2016 there were 35,483 tourist arrivals for the carnival season.
In 2015 there were 38,624 visitors for the carnival period and in 2014 there were 36,897 visitors for this period.
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