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Connecting effort to results in Tourism
From January 16 to 18, the Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association (CHTA) held its annual “Caribbean Marketplace” in Jamaica. I look forward to any important pronouncements or insights that may come from this event. This year is one of continued recovery for some destinations but a make or break year for others...such as Tobago. A couple weeks ago, I was in Barbados for a meeting and as I perused a daily newspaper, I could not help but be impressed by how central Tourism is, to not just the economy, but the national psyche. In that newspaper I read an article penned by the Barbados Tourism Authority (BTA) where they not just explained their activities for 2010 but tried to quantify the impact of their efforts. I was very impressed by it. After talking business one day, I had a casual chat with a tourism stakeholder who has business interests in more than one destination. Given the level of relative industry cohesion observable in Barbados and Jamaica for example, he began explaining to me why, in his opinion, Trinidad and Tobago’s challenge remains more than just its relatively small marketing budget. He believes that even if we get more money, certain key issues need to be resolved. Bottom line, he says is that “we” need to work together better!
Firstly, there is the issue of disjointed marketing. Many are of the opinion that we have a complex product proposition with separate and often inconsistent messages about Trinidad vs Tobago—together with many niches all competing for mind share. But his opinion is that it may go beyond this. He believes that there is scope for better co-ordination in marketing among differing entities such as the Tobago House of Assembly (THA), the Tourist Development Company (TDC), and the state run hotels—the Hilton Trinidad and Conference Centre and the Hyatt Regency Trinidad. Secondly, unlike some of our more successful regional tourism destinations, no one entity is responsible for our country’s tourism “product.” Depending on the beach, it is under the control of either the THA, the TDC, the Chaguaramas Development Authority (CDA) or the Ministry of Local Government. Most of the top class hotel rooms are controlled by the state—either through the Ministry of Trade and Industry or the Ministry of Planning, Economic and Social Restructuring and Gender Affairs. Co-ordination among such diverse players is difficult at best.
Yes, my acquaintance did give me much to think about that day. Unlike some other destinations, our twin island republic does not have a single entity responsible for all destination marketing, nor does it have a single entity responsible for all tourism related product. One thing I came away from that discussion with; is the difficulty faced by the entity at the centre. Those of us in the industry know very well that the one entity often seen at the centre of the tourism eco-system is the TDC. Both the Tourism Ministry and the TDC that are often blamed for any perceived shortcomings in our collective tourism effort. Both the Tourism Ministry and the TDC that are often asked to account for tourism product issues over which they have little or no control.
The job of any destination’s tourist board, such as our TDC is necessarily difficult I would imagine. But as I remember the article mentioned above, I did admire the way the BTA explained in a regular daily newspaper, what it was doing. Specifically, it sought to connect its programmes to overall visitor-arrival and visitor-spend data. This is exactly what the public wants to see. Referring to our expensive tourism promotion activities during the 2006 World Cup in Germany, a popular online commentator said in a recent Jahajee Desi Yahoo Group posting: “Now, I ask again…what did…our money in Dortmund 2006 do for our tourism? It is almost five years since! What did the three thousand media representatives and all the exposure in Germany do for us? What did this big delegation from Trinidad and Tobago do for us?” If our decision makers are able to not just consult stakeholders but comprehensively and transparently connect effort to results, the general public will find it easier to buy into the overall tourism thrust. My name is Derren Joseph and I love my country. As always, I end by saying that despite our challenges, we are so blessed to live in this beautiful land. Let us continue to have the audacity of hope in the future of our beloved country.
• Derren is a travel and tourism consultant. The views and opinions expressed here are solely the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views of any company or institution affiliated with the writer.
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