Interview: Keith Chin
What market segments are being targeted by Trinidad and Tobago’s tourism industry?
KEITH CHIN: T&T has a wide range of touristic products on offer, making it a more diversified tourist destination than other Caribbean islands. Firstly, we have the leisure market, with Tobago being at the forefront of this segment and Trinidad being increasingly able to offer highstandard beach locations. In fact, the Las Cuevas beach in Trinidad was the first to receive the Blue Flag certification in the southern English-speaking Caribbean. Secondly, the business tourism segment plays an important role, particularly in Trinidad, where the meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions (MICE) segment is more developed. Thirdly, the eco- and adventure tourism segment is highly competitive, both above and below water. We have just started a project for the creation of 1000 km of trails along the north coast of Trinidad. Additionally, Tobago boasts the oldest protected rainforest in the region, which is almost 240 years old. The scuba diving industry in Tobago is already well developed, with the island providing an unrivalled natural endowment. Fourthly, the sports segment is set to see significant advancement from the opening of three large sports facilities – the National Cycle Velodrome, the National Aquatic Centre and the National Tennis Centre. Part of the plan is to seek out international sports teams and athletes to come to T&T for either off-season training or international competitions. We already have a team of athletes planning to prepare for the 2016 Olympics in the country, given the islands’ comparable climatic conditions to Brazil.
Do you see an urgency to boost investment in the hospitality sector?
CHIN: The shortage of rooms in T&T is estimated to reach some 6500. Hotel development, particularly in Tobago, has not been effectively strategised and structured, resulting in facilities not being able to address the issue of critical mass – something that airlines take seriously, as it pertains to their return on investment and route profitability. Despite the shortfall in the quantity of full service hotels in Trinidad, the island has been able to attract major international brands such as Hyatt, Hilton, Marriott and Radisson. These are complemented by guesthouses and B&Bs, and both islands benefit from the services of major global airlines, including American Airlines, British Airways, Caribbean Airlines, Condor, Copa Airlines, JetBlue, United Airlines, Virgin Atlantic and WestJet. However, the existing room stock does present some challenges to our capacity to host large conferences and some types of international events.
To support the growth of the industry the Tourism Development Act of 2000 has enabled the government to grant seven-year tax exemptions for approved tourism projects. The main programme is a room upgrade incentive, which provides concessions to small and medium-sized properties for improving the standard of existing rooms. We are also receiving requests to start projects for large hotels. Two major hotels for which discussions are more advanced will be located at the Piarco AeroPark and Chaguaramas.
How is T&T positioning itself as a destination for MICE tourism within the region?
CHIN: The TDC has established a convention bureau in order to market opportunities for further development of the MICE industry. In Trinidad the biggest hosting facility is at the Hyatt Regency hotel, which in the past year has hosted regional events such as the Americas Competitiveness Forum and the Caribbean Investment and Finance Forum. In 2015 Tobago launched its own new facility, the Shaw Park Cultural Complex, with a capacity to accommodate up to 3700 in the main auditorium. Our main MICE competitors in the region are Puerto Rico and Jamaica, which have a wide selection of facilities. However, access to premium-quality ICT infrastructure and competitive electricity rates provide T&T with a competitive edge. The country also has the widest industrial base in both the manufacturing and services sectors and strong international linkages.
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